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v. 31 

West Georgia College 
Studies in the Social Sciences 

Volume XXXI 

June 1993 

Women: Contemporary 
Issues and Perspectives 

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Volume XXXI June 1993 


Contemporary Issues 

and Perspectives 

N. Jane McCandless 

Myrna Cintron 
Assistant Editor 

Cover Courtesy of: Norma J. Schick 

Women: Contemporary Issues and Perspectives 

N. Jane McCandless (Volume Editor) 

Volume 31 of West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences 
Francis P. Conner (Series Editor) 

Copyright 1993 by: 
West Georgia College 
Carrollton, GA 30118 

ISBN 1-883199-01-8 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in 
any form - except for brief quotation - in a review or professional 
work - without permission from the publishers. 

Printed by 

Department of Publications and Printing 

West Georgia College 

Women: Contemporary Issues and Perspectives 

N. Jane McCandless, Editor 
Myrna Cintron, Assistant Editor 



Francis P. Conner ,7 


N.Jane McCandless 9 

When We Speak of Sex, What Are We Talking 
About: The Advent of Postmodernism and the Social 
Construction of Gender 

Kareen RorMalone 11 

Home Work: A Reassessment of Scholarship on 
Homemakers and Housework With Implications 
for Future Study 

Meg Wilkes Karraker & Sue Hammons-Bryner 31 

Harbinger of Violence: A Young Woman's First Kiss 

Richard J. Alapack 51 

Art of Discovery: Experiencing Kate Chopin's "The Storm" 
Ellen Barker 61 

Epistemology, Ethics, and Eliot: Feminine Development 
in Middleman!} 

Sandra S. Honaker 73 

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese's Feminism Without Illusions'. 
One Year Later 

Barbara A. Baker 91 

Suzanne Clark's Sentimental Modernism: Women Writers 
and the Revolution of the Word 

Lisa Plummer Crafton 95 

About the Authors 99 

Francis P. Conner, MSW 

One of the functions of the West Georgia College Studies in the 
Social Sciences series is to encourage the extension and elaboration of 
ideas that are in the forefront of the various social sciences. Cer- 
tainly, gender issues cut across all the disciplines, and feminist 
theory is having a dramatic impact on sociology, history, psychol- 
ogy, and even economics as we re-think what we have been learning 
and teaching. This is demonstrated clearly in this volume: Women: 
Contemporary Issues and Perspectives, edited by Dr. N. Jane 
McCandless, who has succeeded in bringing together a diverse 
group of scholars, whose common ground is the high quality of their 

This volume contains timely articles from different academic 
disciplines, and like the previous volume owAmerican Popular Music, 
provides a forum for a wide-ranging discussion of current issues. 
From a re-assessment of home/house work, to demythologizing the 
sentimentalized first kiss, to re-thinking women's writing, this 
collection of articles provokes us into taking a new look at things we 
thought we knew. That is no small feat for a volume of this size. 

I believe the reader will find this volume offers refreshing and 
thought-provoking views of gender issues, and I expect s/he will 
come back and read sections of it again, from time to time. If so, its 
purpose has been fulfilled. 


Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2011 with funding from 

LYRASIS Members and Sloan Foundation 


N. Jane McCandless, Editor 

While it wasn't until 1832 that Oberlin College opened its doors 
to women, it has not taken as long to recognize that traditional 
scholarship has excluded one half of the human population. Since 
then, academics have taken the challenge to reconstruct existing 
knowledge in an attempt to include women's experiences. 

In 1993 we have a number of avenues for potential exploration. 
We might, for example, begin to reassess existing scholarship on 
women in light of yet more academic and social change. The first 
author argues that feminists in the social sciences still face the task 
of defining the cultural horizons of gender meanings. Thus, Malone 
considers the positive effects of a postmodern perspective on gender 
within the field of psychology. The authors of the second essay 
suggest that the study of homemakers and housework can inform 
the sociological study of change, family, gender, stratification, and 
work. And, Karraker and Hammons-Bryner assess such scholarship 
with an eye toward synthesizing implications for theory, research, 
and teaching. 

While the first two essays consider new direction in current 
thought, the third essay attempts to fill in a gap. The evidence is 
overwhelming: there exists violence against women. Battery, rape, 
incest, and sexual harassment affects all women, whether directly or 
indirectly. However, there is a dearth of published evidence about 
adolescent kissing. And yet Alapack proposes that young women 
too frequently experience an initial kiss that burdens her with shame 
... nothing less than another form of heterosexual violence. 

Literature too holds an understanding of women's issues. Barker 
in her essay reminds us that a reading of "The Storm" challenges the 
reader to take a closer look at the submerged lives of women and 
understand the root causes of their subordination. More impor- 
tantly, through discovery, a reading can challenge the restrictions of 
a reader's social codes and lead to an awareness of a woman's stance 
or to acceptance and change of mind. And Honaker, in the essay to 


follow, uses five epistemological patterns to a character study of the 
ethical development of the female characters in Middlemarch. 

As texts will be our mark for future generations, critical reviews 
are necessary. Baker, in her review of Feminism Without Illusions 
believes that Fox-Genovese's work is an important book for anyone 
committed to arguing the feminist case. And Crafton, in her review 
of Sentimental 'Modernism: Women Writers and the Revolution of the 
Word notes that Clark's work contributes to ongoing debates about 
feminist criticism, canon formation, and the rhetorical nature of 

It is hoped that the articles in this volume will continue in the 
tradition that women's contemporary perspectives and issues are 
worthy of attention. If such issues are not, then we will only be guilty 
of transmitting impartial and distorted knowledge, leading yet 
another generation to believe that the lives and experiences of 
women are second to those of men. 

And it is important to thank all of those who helped in this 
project. First, the series editor, Mr. Pick Conner and the assistant 
editor, Myrna Cintron. I want to thank the reviewers: Ellen Barker, 
Dekalb College; Dr. Florence Cook, West Georgia College; Dr. 
Marc LaFountain, West Georgia College; Cheryl Rice, West 
Georgia College; and Diane Smith, West Georgia College. Thanks 
also go to our department secretary, Joyce Tuttle and our student 
assistants, Cathy Hardy and Connie Stapler. 


When We Speak of Sex, What are 

We Talking About: The Advent of 

Postmodernism and the Social 

Construction of Gender 

Kareen Ror Malone 

Over the past three years, a very successful series of advertise- 
ments was run by Anheuser-Busch. In these commercials, cameos 
of gender stereotypes were presented in rapid succession. The 
theme of these stereotypes was the manner in which one sex baffles 
and irritates the other sex. A voiceover inquired into the source of 
such impossibilities within sexual difference but in the end, we were 
told, "why ask why, drink Bud dry." In less than a minute we are 
shifted from an incipient hermeneutics inspired by gender to the 
elegant solution of fulfilled desire. The fulfillment as typically 
represented in such ads is a tilting of a long neck bottle towards a 
thirsty mouth. The camera modestly cuts away before we actuallv 
see Bud drunk dry. Simply, in this series of advertisements, one is 
offered a trajectory of gender meanings that flow from representa- 
tions of an impasse that generates knowledge to an image of 
realization and complementarity: a bottleneck conjoined to a mouth. 

Recognizing a hovering association between the male genitalia 
and the proper name, "dick" being the most frequent recipient of 
this honor, I was rather intrigued by a parallel ad campaign for 
Budweiser regular. These commercials featured diminutive super 
men, little bustles of (need I say hard) muscle who go by the name 
of Budmen. I asked a friend how tall she thought these 
anthropormorphized beers were, and she replied, "oh, six to eight 
inches." It is odd, in fact, that Bud is not a more prevalent double- 
entendre for penis (except in Budweiser commercials). One reason 
that John and Dick have served so well in this capacity is that thev 
are commonplace names as in "any Tom, Dick, or Harry" and the 
expression, "John Doe." Given that Bud enjoys the colloquial 
signification of any old guy, it would seem plausible that its meaning 
could drift to male genitalia. Perhaps it is another meaning of bud 
(its botanical aspect) that precludes this semantic expansion. Per- 
haps, the buds of nature are too diminutive; bud was, at one time, 
vernacular for the clitoris, one of the few on record. 

In suggesting that Anheuser-Busch intimates that its product, 
Budweiser, is a phallocentric answer to the question of sexual 
difference and desire, I am not (merely) indulging in the pleasures 


of a vulgar Freudianism which would find some penile pre-occupa- 
tion behind any symbolic concatenation (Gallop 1988). Rather, it is 
to point out that, even within the effective but idiotic medium of 
commercial television, there are nuances to the meaning of gender 
that implicate sex as prototype or ritual for the project of knowledge 
and representation. The ads seem to say that sexual difference is an 
impasse. Accordingly, they inquire as to the nature of this impasse. 
They then admonish the viewer to refrain from interpretation and 
suck a Bud. Sex, in this instance, both opens and closes the cycle of 

One could say that the project of feminism is exactly what 
Anheuser Busch advises against - asking why. The most astonishing 
question of feminism is "why is there gender at all?" We are so easily 
lulled into a naturalistic view of sexuality, a view supported by the 
intimate involvement of our physicality in sex, sexual difference, and 
reproduction, that we often fail to grasp how radical the questioning 
of sexuality and gender actually is. In a way, gender and sex are the 
ultimate temptations to a naive positivism in which we ascribe to 
various binaries of conceptualization, subject vs. object, nature vs. 
culture, the fundamental ground of our thinking. To challenge the 
binaries of sexual difference and the essentialism of gender is thus 
to begin to re-think the very ground of subjectivity and cognition. 

In addition to the epistemological stakes of gender, there are 
cultural pressures that promote the desire to retain some domain 
that remains pristine qua natural. Especially in Western history, we 
have a legacy of inalienable natural rights, an economic policy 
justified as the natural course of "laissez faire," and a preoccupation 
with the inviolate innocence of children which we deem natural and 
pre-given. We might note that society's attention to the abuse of 
children is most probably overdetermined; our concern is certainly 
not reflected in educational, nutritional, or child care policies. It 
seems that the preserve of sexual difference in part functions to 
maintain an idealized and yet supposedly unmediated category of 
what is natural. The imbrication of naturalness with sexuality entails 
any number of consequences; the natural association of men with 


aggression, found in evolutionary fantasies of the "hunter" as well as 
in any number of significations, is cross-culturally correlated with 
the incidence of rape (Sanday 1990). If my speculation in this regard 
is partially true then we might expect "asking why" about gender 
would not only dispute the collusion of knowledge with dominant 
forms of sexual relations but speak to other fundamental beliefs that 
organize social relations. 

Sex role plans are part of the system of meanings by 
which a people explain their success, come to terms 
with their fears, enshrine their past, and stamp 
themselves with a sense of"peoplehood."The unique 
identity people weave for themselves, the cup from 
which to drink from life, mediates sexual identities. 
Hence, sex roles must be viewed as an interdepen- 
dent part of the logico-meaningful system that de- 
fines and gives direction to a people's life (Sanday 
1981, p. 163). 
One could easily debate the logic of such symbolic systems within 
cultures, but Sanday's overall point is well taken. Sexual identitv 
does not ultimately answer to a body. Rather it situates that body 
within a symbolic framework that organizes the conduct of living in 
its most foundational terms. Where do these categories of man and 
woman come from if we can no longer comfortably refer them to 
bodies and natural function? If, in fact, gender is a pivot of the 
umbrella of meanings which form the self within a culture, one must 
even question what is involved when notions such as the "healthy 
self esteem" are invoked in the social sciences. Western culture's 
prolific repertoire of images of the self do not stand alone but are 
imbricated with concurrent gender ideologies. 

Conversely, of course, changes in dominant notions of gender 
will impact how we imagine subjectivity, its parameters and norms. 
If the frame of subjectivity answers to gender identities, we can 
presume its correlate, the objective world, is equally complicit with 
the field of sexuality and gender. Once gender is granted its 
participation in the evolution of our ideas of the subject and object, 


it is clear that sexuality, so to speak, "infects" the domain of 
epistemology. As a result, we find that feminists have utilized a 
number of interpretative strategies developed to subvert prevalent 
epistemological paradigms - such a subversion follows from their 
transformation of gender relations. 

For feminists in psychology, there is a steep price to following 
this path. Their feminist loyalties are no longer necessarily compat- 
ible with the definition of their profession as a natural science. 
Positivism, a near and dear cousin to the empiricist strain in 
psychology, is one of those universalistic philosophies obliquely 
supported by modes of cognition and identity that implicate tradi- 
tional formations of gender. In positivism, there is a clear demarca- 
tion of the subject and object and the presumption of certain 
classical dichotomies, e.g. active vs. passive, form vs. matter. One 
can no longer benignly assume that these attributes are indifferent 
with respect to gender ideologies. In fact, one might argue that 
gender is nothing but such attributions. Thus, in a way, these 
enduring gender images do not reflect or sustain a body. Rather, 
they reflect and sustain an epistemology. The dilemma of feminists 
committed to a traditional empiricist approach, with its concomi- 
tant epistemological beliefs, is apparent (Morawski 1990). Can one 
just implement one's scientific practices more rigorously in order to 
circumvent this implication with gender? Or are such feminists on 
the cusp of a major reformulation of the operative paradigm of 
psychology as a science? 

To unbind the referential allure of gender and encounter its 
various domains of meaning require that we treat gender in its 
function as a symbol. An interpretation of gender at the symbolic 
level implies not only that we see gender through the lenses of 
politics, or in terms of economic and instrumental interests, but also 
that we attend to the contexts in which images of gender arise. I 
would call these contexts, at least in terms of the symbolics of 
gender, narratives of sexual difference. Fully unfolding the meaning 
of gender in any given narrative may demand that we learn to, as 
Gayatri Spivak (1990) calls it, "inhabit" a text and begin to under- 


stand how symbolism works without relying upon an "outside" of 

Following metaphors of gender, being alert to points of ellipsis, 
or simply by attending to the rhetoric of the text, feminists from a 
variety of disciplines have begun to unravel a number of questions 
at stake in sexual difference. It does not appear that sexual difference 
answers to universal nature but rather is conditioned by history 
(Laqueur 1 990). Any apparently universal quality indicated through 
gender images does not harken to any originary corporeal necessity, 
as in the sexual appetites of men indicating prehistoric breeding 
exigencies. Rather such platitudes and images defer to certain 
social/symbolic claims, such as epistemology. Thus, if a woman's 
body symbolizes the plentitude of nature rather reliably throughout 
Western history, we need not resort to the mechanics of reproduc- 
tion and to our fantasies about their primal and definitive impact (as 
in sociobiology). Instead we might examine the function of the idea 
of nature in Western philosophy and in reigning attitudes about self 
and world. It is in these arenas that we can most fully comprehend 
what characterizations of gender reflect. 1 

The cultural mandates placed upon gender cover an enormous 
amount of territory, from the economic sphere and the political 
arena to questions of philosophy, religion, authority, power, devel- 
opmental stages, processes of cognition. Within psychology, for 
instance, there is a strong division between those who would 
privilege hard data over its soft counterpart. The connotation of 
hard and soft as masculine and feminine respectively is, in the 
United States, self-evident. A current economic expression for 
being in debt, "being in the hole," once referred to the sexual act. 
Upon hearing the metaphors of gender that appear in so many 
discourses, we begin to realize the culture's investment in sexuality. 
It is an investment that extends beyond making babies to the 
question of making subjects. The extent to which gender permeates 
social relations renders Freud's imputed pansexualism very meek 
and mild-mannered. 2 


In order to analyze the means by which gender meanings are 
generated within narratives, we must, for methodological reasons, 
look to the rules that govern the manner in which language, that is, 
words or signifiers, combine to produce coherent meanings, create 
new meanings, and censor meanings. 3 The interplay of signifiers has 
been taken up as a basis of interpretation and meaning by various 
schools of deconstruction, postmodernism, and Lacanian psycho- 
analysis. In part, the interest of such schools is directed toward the 
manner in which the operation of symbolism itself can point the way 
to opening up a narrative. In part, their interest is directed towards 
the undermining of the traditional Western ontology of being by 
indicating its submission to the effects of language or writing. For 
both of these reasons, a number of feminists have been attracted to 
such approaches even if their reading of genders risks being reac- 
tionary at points. 

For the most part, at least within psychology, contemporary 
theories on the nature of signification, with their impact upon 
feminism, have been incorporated through concepts labelled 
"postmodern." Although there are many components to the 
postmodern approach, it appears that postmodern thinking is a 
particularly astute articulation of some viable feminist strategies 
within psychology and the social sciences in general. Deploying the 
tools of postmodernism, feminism within psychology has inaugu- 
rated the deconstruction of gender and sexuality and is moving away 
from a conception of gender compatible with an universalistic 
empiricism, one that is more attuned to questions of difference and 
subjectivity (Allen and Baber 1992). 

As with all good ideas, feminism's initial contact with 
postmodernism has produced some excesses. These excesses are 
starting to be addressed in the field of literary criticism and women's 
studies. Psychology is not so far along in its love affair with the 
postmodern paradigm. Nonetheless, there appear to me to be some 
fairly significant issues that might be considered before we take 
gender down the primrose path of its contextual articulations. 


First, we might want to conceptualize the profound effect of 
symbols on subjectivity. This is where the French psychoanalyst, 
Jacques Lacan began when he inquired as to the nature of the 
"talking cure." In the talking cure, the therapist does not check the 
references of her client's speech. She works within the weave of 
language itself. By the same token, postmodernism allows us to 
conceptualize the power of symbols on their own turf, not by virtue 
of their reference or their subordination to a "metanarrative." The 
initial question then of the marriage of psychology, feminism, and 
postmodernism is an examination of the radicality of the symbol. 

Secondly, a more specifically feminist question arises. This 
question asks why is it that images of gender and sexuality so 
frequently seep through to other symbolic systems such as econom- 
ics (Foucault 1986). The vernacular of such ulterior systems seem 
unable to resist sexual metaphors; the expression, "making it" is a 
contemporary example of this ambiguous terrain. Are we referring 
to financial success or a standard sexual practice when we use this 

The two questions posed above do not constitute the only ones 
that postmodernism poses to a feminist or psychological applica- 
tion, but they are rather important topics. Both revolve around an 
explication of the latent structural relationship between gender, 
identity and representation. Clearly, if gender is dependent upon a 
society's epistemological orientation, we are, in a sense, in a doubled 
investigation. We must not only perceive the radicality of symbol- 
ism as it impacts gender. We must equally dis-entangle how the 
structure of symbolism itself is founded on the images of gender, i.e. 
where does human desire interpellate itself within the processes of 
symbolism and to what degree is this desire "engendered" through 
sexual difference. Feminist psychologists have shown a keen aware- 
ness of gender's relationship to representation in their interrogation 
of the subject-object relationship. Obviously, any investigation of 
representation must begin in an idea of its two fundamental terms, 
ones which reach across sexual identity and the impasses of gender. 


Within developmental psychology, Carol Gilligan (1982) has 
pursued an understanding of feminine identity that diverges sharply 
from the positioning of the masculine subject. She has brought to 
our attention the specious grounds of supposing that there is a 
standard subjectivity that possesses universal forms of psychological 
functioning. Her theory, in spite of its middle-class bias, has cast the 
putatively neutered subject of psychology as most definitively mas- 
culine. A masculine identity maintains certain relations to the 
objective world while a feminine identity maintains other types of 
relations. Postmodern thinking may take us even further into this 
critique of masculinity and thus even further into the nuances of 
subject-object relations (Moi 1989). Postmodernism would postu- 
late there is no subject without reference to the other, no identity 
without difference. In fact, this paradigm would go so far as to posit 
that the concept of identity whether it is feminine or masculine has 
been misconceived. Identity is a prop to withstand the effects of 
difference. Both masculine and feminine identities circle around the 
quagmire of identity versus difference. 

Although I think that feminism in psychology is quite pleased 
with the new interpretative tools provided by the deconstruction of 
identity, the ideas of postmodernism, and the new emphasis on 
textual analysis, I do not think we have fully come to terms with 
postmodernism's uncompromising reconceptualization of the sub- 
ject, including the subject that exists after emancipation. I want to 
examine this subject as revealed in identity, being, and desire, and 
consider identity, being and desire in the terms offered by represen- 

In order to articulate the conundrum of representation as it 
resides in sexual difference, I will allude to a Lacanian acrostic 
presented in "The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious or 
Reason since Freud" (Lacan 1977, p. 151). In this essay, Lacan 
provides two diagrams to indicate the relationship between human 
being and the signifier. The first, a variation of a Saussurian formula, 
is an innocuous picture of a tree with the word "tree" appended to 
it. The word, "tree" is the signifier and Lacan puts it on top of a 


picture of a tree. The latter stands for the idea or the referent that 
is the tree. The two terms are separated by a bar or line. You might 
imagine the relationship as not confined to a correlation between a 
word and an idea or a word and a thing. Instead you might consider 
it as indicating the relationship between you and your name. 4 The 
signifier "tree" and whatever a tree is are not intrinsically tied, a bar 
separates the two. In other words, the signifier is arbitrarily im- 
posed. You might have noticed this incommensurability when vou 
have asked yourself, "who am I" or "what do they want of me" when 
you are asked to be a man or a woman or a psychologist, i.e. whenever 
you are asked to match the imputation of a signifier. It is symbolism 
that introduces this line of inquiry for the human subject. It is 
symbolism that gives the subject something other than herself to 
become. This is a blessing in that it allows a human to change vis a 
vis the elementary structures of communication. It is also a curse 
because we never get where the other of the signifier has placed us. 

Although the symbol tree and the actual tree are not related, it is 
necessary to act as if they are. This ploy by language is especiallv 
important for us humans. Let us say that for the sake of possessing 
the possibility of communication, of expressing ourselves, of getting 
what we need and want, that we will generally operate from the "a 
tree is a tree" point of view ( Apollon 1991). The ideal or referent that 
is guaranteed by an agreement in language is not essential in terms 
of the world of objects. The supposition of a symbolic svstem 
directly tied to referential reality is essential in terms of a prop for the 
subject, the prop of identity. Can the signifier tree ever reach the real 
tree? Can we ever truly be ourselves? Both of these questions are 
questions of identity. 

The state of affairs inflicted upon our quest for identitv is more 
radically represented in Lacan's second acrostic. It depicts two plain 
doors lined up side by side. Above each door sits one of two 
nominations, men or ladies. These "bathroom" doors are also 
separated from their respective signifiers bv an impassable bar, but 
the situation is more complex. First, the doors are exactlv alike while 
the distinction in signification is critical - recall, for example, the 


intrepid boy claiming a sexed identity through his first solitary visit 
to the men's room. Secondly, the signifiers, "men" and "ladies" do 
not, in the least, refer to the doors or even to what is behind them 
(which are toilets). Rather they refer to the users of the facilities. The 
pictorial analogy implies that language and its structure answer to 
the subject, not to the object. More accurately, in the use of language 
(the facilities) the subject as well as the object is situated both within 
an overriding symbolic matrix and as the vehicle of his or her 
identity. 5 Further, in this diagram, the arbitrary relation between 
signifier and signified becomes even more powerfully evident. To 
what does a signifier refer? According to this diagram, it refers to 
another signifier. What is the ladies' door? It is not the men's door 
and vice-versa. 

Far from there being a signified for the signifier, there is only 
difference. 6 What is missing from the two bathroom doors is a place 
for identity. The analogy offered by the acrostic suggests that 
language is a place of difference, not of identity. To salvage an 
identity out of language, we reify words. These reifications are 
merely words that have been stabilized by agreement or by aleatory 
processes of historical usage. Thus the status of language is a matter 
of contrivance, an effect of arbitrary but necessary law. The purely 
conventional source of identity, as stabilized meaning, does not 
distract from our investment in it, however. People marry using 
mere words, they pay X amount per hour to use words, they kill each 
other in the name of this or that. Witness, as my final example, the 
hyperbolic worry over public restrooms by opponents of the Equal 
Rights Amendment. 

Bathrooms literally proclaim the capricious nature of language 
that is kept under control by the law. As subjected to language, one 
occupies the throne of identity (words mean what they say) through 
a cultural agreement. This cultural agreement suppresses the quick- 
sand of difference. In order to stabilize this fissure within symbolic 
machinations, we must maintain some illusion of an identity sup- 
ported by this binary of opposition, man and women. For Lacan, 


this coup in language is the achievement of masculinity - making a 
man out of a body. 

Notice here what has transpired under the auspices of gender. 
Gender is the provision of a set of fantasies that simultaneously 
organizes the body and maintains certain cultural structures. Gen- 
der does not answer to that body but rather to the structure of 
symbolism. Identity becomes a legal contrivance, as one can surmise 
through the historical and arbitrary exclusion of the other qua 
woman from the public sector. The masculine trick then is to turn 
the ruse of linguistic law into an achievement of a sexed identity. 
Bruce Fink (1991) puts the masculine position in these terms, "Men 
are wholly alienated within language" (p. 66). 

This characterization of the male function is what is meant by the 
often heard equation of recent French feminism that proclaims the 
phallus as a fallacy; masculinity does not derive from the body, but 
from a prosthetic of the body which marks our symbolic alienation/ 
castration. Men, insofar as they are men, are those beings whose 
identities find their sustenance in the field of symbolic and cultural 
effects. A phallic identification means that one occupies a certain 
position in relationship to the operation of representational systems. 
One buys into the veracity of such cultural systems; one defends the 
(from another position) fabricated causes of the Symbolic Order 
and one's ego depends on this inherently fragile cultural edifice. 
More simply, the phallus is a dildo. 

Mary Gergen (1992, p. 10), in her study of autobiographies of 

famous men and women, finds a striking contrast in accounts of 

male and female embodiment. These differences affirm the pivotal 

effect of an identification with the symbolic order for masculinity: 

The woman's sense of identity remains closely tied 

to her physical condition. It is not so much that the 

body is used instrumentally - as a means to some 

other end outside the body. Rather, to be in a certain 

bodily condition is to "be oneself." 

Summing up the narratives of embodiment of adult 

years, we find that a man's bodily self fades even 


more into the background as career interests expand. 
The career is typically tied to ideas and ideals, power 
and prestige, and not to corporeality. 
Of course, once you have left the domain of biology, being a man or 
a woman is not an anatomical denotation; it is an expression of those 
elementary forms of subjective identity that are congruent with our 
existence in culture. 

Women, as woman, assume a different position in relationship 
to the representational systems of a given culture. If masculinity is 
the sacrifice that guarantees the linguistic/symbolic edifice, woman 
would be the fragility of that edifice. If man is a being of the word, 
the so called "opposite sex" represents the moment of its failure. 
What is the nature of this failure within language and its importa- 
tion into images of the feminine gender? 

From the point of view of language, humans are just one signifier 
among many. Language, a system not accountable to being, would 
just as easily speak us as be spoken by us. One might note that in 
slips, arguments with intimates and in dreams, the indifference of 
symbolism to consciousness is glaringly evident. To come to terms 
with language allows us to find a self in the word "I" and to assume 
a sense of agency. This is the fantasy of the neutral but actually 
masculine subject. Otherwise an "I" is a grammatical shifter, subor- 
dinate to the signifiers that follow, empty in itself. 

Language as difference is an affront to singularity and agency. It 
is a sliding, a wound on the edifice of identity and alien to sovereign 
consciousness. When we accede to language we realize ourselves as 
speaking beings but we are simultaneously condemned to 
incompletion. To be incomplete means that one is lacking. We 
typically think that to be lacking is in some sense to be deficient. At 
the same time, to lack is a pre-condition to desire. 

In the conjunction of desire and deficiency, we find the other 
position bequeathed by language, the position inhabited by the 
category woman. The position of desire affords femininity universal 
attractiveness, regardless of the sex or sexual preference of the 
admirer. Beauty, however, turns to bimbo as the connection be- 


tween deficiency and desire is negotiated in narratives and images 
of women. Western Civilization provides perpetual testimony to 
women's imputed inferiority even while it idealizes her. The tandem 
idealization and misogyny, historically covariant, (Bloch 1987) is an 
oxymoronic constellation. However, it acquires a touch of clarity 
when read through the impasses of representation. 

Traditionally, a degree of symbolic ineptitude is attributed to the 
feminine sex, an ineptitude positively correlated with the health of 
her body and reproductive organs. In the nineteenth century, 
medical and psychological experts argued against the widespread 
admission of women to universities because of the dangers it posed 
to their ovaries. Contemporary society is more subtle about such 
characterizations than in the past. Still, in our continued indiffer- 
ence to childcare issues which symbolically bifurcates maternity 
from public life, in the insistent recuperation of a woman's body as 
purely erotic in sexual harassment, in our fetishization of the smell 
of a woman from feminine hygiene to perfume, we continue to re- 
play positional divisions within the process of symbolizing. Woman 
is body, the pre-symbolized. Man is the operative agent of cultural 

The masculine solution, a working hypothesis for the public 
sphere, is the illusion that identity overcomes difference. Masculine 
identity is enfranchised by the Symbolic and is supposedly trustwor- 
thy in relationship to it. A man's relationship to the Symbolic is such 
that he must be trusted to "die for the flag." In this act, he indicates 
his willingness to be that which sacrifices living being to the 
perpetuation of a symbolic order. The association between mascu- 
linity and death noted in the quotation below reflects the overriding 
significance of the symbolic order for male identity: 

If there is a basic difference between the sexes, other 
than differences associated with reproductivity, it is 
that women as a group have not willingly faced death 
in violent conflict. This fact, perhaps more than any 
other, explains why men have sometimes become 
the dominant sex (Sanday, 1981, pp. 210-211). 


The first reading of Sanday's observation would suggest that men 
are simply more brutish - an obvious but perhaps incomplete insight 
for feminist theory. Equally significant is the context of Sanday's 
postulated sexual difference. She is discussing the degree to which 
women will "go to battle" over the question of their rights. Such 
rights are generally accorded through social/symbolic recognition. 
Thus implicit to this quotation is a notable difference in the way 
each sex responds to the quest for symbolic authorization. Do you 
give up your "living being" for power in the Symbolic Order? I would 
read this cultural valuation of death in two ways. First as an 
instrumental ascendence that echoes the, so to speak, triumph of 
culture over nature, i.e. we will die for the greater social order. I 
would also read the privileging of dying as a testament to our 
symbolic alienation; a mark of culture as the denial of the living body 
and the dominance of symbolism and signifying within human 
relations. It is a movement from a bio-logic to a psycho-logic and is 
a most tenuous usurpation. 

In order to make such claims upon being, our investment in 
language must avoid the confrontation with its arbitrary founda- 
tion. This is a tortuous path for that which undermines language 
(difference) is also that which provides its evocative and creative 
possibilities. Although we like to be "who we say we are," we would 
hate for language's relation to being to come to an end in absolute 
identity. Again the dualism arises: deficiency or desire. By repress- 
ing difference within language, the masculine assumes a position of 
agency. Language does not slide out from under this position. 
Rather consciousness is in command of speech. Women's reputa- 
tion as eternal gossips represents the inverse fear, that is, that one's 
speech is really at the behest of the proliferation of language itself 
The defect within symbolism thus appears at the point of differ- 
ence. 7 

Linked to the attribution of a defect is the feminine's association 
with desire. As defective and desirable, the feminine is associated 
with difference. Difference is never ending; one is never done; there 
is always something more. Thus, stitched into the nature of lan- 


guage is the origin of a specifically human desire. As difference, 
woman becomes the chaste and unattainable, the ideal. She is the 
surplus of language, hidden behind its veil. As ideal, of course, the 
woman plays out the triad of desire, difference, and idealization. 8 
Equally probable, woman is characterized as uncontrollably rapa- 
cious, deep inside a slut. Here the lack in the symbolic order reveals 
its chaotic core (within the structure of phallocentric fantasy). In 
either case, it is woman as a category that mediates the transforma- 
tion of difference into desire. 

Obviously, as two sides in the impasses of representation, woman 
and man are each other's weaknesses, with the latter, by any 
definition possessing the most power. At the same time, paradoxi- 
cally, the feminine possesses the greatest threat. As ideal categories, 
one sex possess the Symbolic power, that is authority, while the 
other exposes the lack that undergirds that authority. This is one of 
the most terrifying complementaries within phallocentric cultures. 
Thus, once we factor in the role of gender in structuring represen- 
tation, the agenda for liberation becomes exceeding complex. 

This project is complicated by the fact that gender not only 
imprints logistical difficulties within symbolizing, it provides its 
own quaint solutions. We saw the structure of sexual impasse 
resolved by sexuality itself in the banal imagination of Anheuser- 
Busch. In order to encounter difference within the domain of its 
incarnation, we counter the impossibility of sexuality (as an effect of 
signifying) in terms of the desire to be one. In this manner, we 
overcome the question of difference within language insofar as its 
threatens identity (being one). Having sex for ontological reasons 
spawns an array of sexual images. I will name two. The abyss of the 
cleavage is answered by the ample plentitude ot the breasts that 
provide its occasion. Both are attractive. On the other side, there is 
the absolutely terrifying triad of penis, qua gun, qua enforcer that re- 
enacts the violence of culture and its imposition of law. 

When I discuss signifiers of gender, I am not unraveling various 
socially conditioned symbolizations of sexual difference. One can 
understand these types of signifiers of woman as serving ulterior 


ends like the economic exploitation of women. Such ulterior ends 
are operative; there is no question on this point. However, I want to 
draw your attention to a very particular function of gender, a 
function that accounts for the pervasiveness of its imagery in every 
relationship of social mediation. In other words, we can't be social- 
ized without first being symbolized. Further, since symbolizing 
actually always involves difference, not an identity, gender is already 
wrapped in the process of symbolization before it is called upon to 
hold up given social relationships. 

If we accord a degree of priority to the symbolics of gender then 
we must examine the role sexual difference plays in the processes of 
representation. We must acknowledge that symbolizing is not 
neutral but always learned through sexual difference. In this odd 
ritual of representation and gender, man and woman occupy histori- 
cally inscribed positions which answer to the nature of the subject 
itself. Identity with the Symbolic Order is man's frail support for his 
existence. The category imagined as woman escapes the symbolic 
directive but denies her any number of social privileges. Thus, at 
some level, woman incarnates the limits of our representational 
efforts; more radically, the position of the feminine presents the 
limit of masculine existence (as misogynists like to tell us). Is man, 
as Slavoj Zizek (1991) playfully suggests, a woman who thinks she 
(symbolically) exists. 



1 I am not implying here, however, that the body does not offer resistance, but 
rather that we know the body as a resistance to the Symbolic not in and of itself. 
When looking at gender as a symbol, the body is not the source but the vehicle 
of a meaning. 

2 Feminists of the postmodern persuasion within psychology have been 
reluctant to entertain a Freudian contribution to their efforts. This reluctance is 
maintained despite what I perceive as Freud's utility and the shared territories of 
the two inquiries: 1) pansexualism, with an equal tendency to expand the notion 
of sexuality and/or to get reductionistic about it. 2) gender as an imposition; for 
Freud we take up gender in the guise of a threat or as a deprivation (paraphrased 
from Lacan 1977a). 3) a relationship between gender and representation. At this 
time the joint venture between psychoanalysis and feminism -for feminists in 
psychology - has been carried out through object-relations theory. The aversion 
to Freud proper may be attributable to America's rendition of Freud that portrays 
him as brazenly reductionistic. This is an unfortunate trend in American 
psychology. In Europe, Freud has been very fruitfully employed in the service of 
feminism for nearly two decades. 

3 Lacanian thinking, for example, highlights the role of punctuation in 
determining meaning. In a sentence, each word awaits its successor and the 
finality of punctuation to attain its complete meaning. Thus meaning, insofar as 
it depends upon the processes of language, is never pinned down absolutely. We 
can always re-punctuate or re-open any chain of signifiers if significance is onlv 
granted retroactively. This intervention of language upon human existence is a 
great boon to therapists but the indeterminacy it implies is not the road to 
ontological security. The latter difficulty is, as I will suggest later, taken up in the 
construction of gender. 

More important for a symbolic interpretation of gender is the axis of 
metaphor. Metaphor is simply the substitution of one word for another. Through 
substitution, different networks of signifiers are spliced together allowing for new 
meaning. In the same movement, a word and its context can be suppressed as the 
new substitution gains ascendence as a literal meaning. A metaphor is not merelv 
ornamental. One can reasonably argue that language builds itself through the 
process of metaphoric substitution. 

4 In fact, we answer better to our signifiers than do most trees, but that is 
another question. 


5 This is commonplace knowledge in a therapeutic listening to narrative. One 
does not take the client utterances in terms of objective reality alone but equally 
one must be attuned to the psychic world that is being narrated. 

6 A binary opposition is the maximum degree of identity that can be imposed 
upon this scene. We recognize this stabilization in the permeations around what 
we call the opposite sexes. 

7 Thus when feminism attempts to articulate feminine empowerment, it must 
navigate within the tricky dynamics of identity, difference, agency, and their 
enchained associations with one gender or another. 

8 In Greece of course, young "passive" boys got the call and the gender- 
representation complex was more splintered although the association with 
passive appears rather unshakable. 


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in Applying a Postmodern Perspective to Feminist Research." Psychology of 
Women Quarterly 16:1-15. 

Apollon, William, 1991. "Theory 6c Practice in the Psychoanalytic Treatment of 
Psychosis," Pp.1 16-142 in Ragland- Sullivan ScBracher (eds.), Lacan &the 
Subject of Language. London: Routledge. 

Block, Howard, 1987. Medeival Misogyny." Representations, 20:1-17. 

Fink, Bruce, 1991. ""There's no such thing as a Sexual Relationship': Existence 
and the Formulas of Sexuation." Newsletter of the Freudian Field 5:59-85. 

Foucault, Michael, 1986. The Care of the Self: Volume Three of the History of 
Sexuality. Robert Hurley (trans.), N.Y.: Pantheon. 

Gallop, Jane, 1988. Thinking Through the Body. N.Y.:Columbia University Press. 

Gergen, Mary, 1992. "Socially Constructing the Body in Popular Autobiography." 
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York: W.W. Norton & Company. 


Lacan, Jacques, 1977a. "The Signification of the Phallus" Pp. 281-291 in Alan 
Sheridan (trans.), Ecrits: A Selection. New York: W.W. Norton. 

Laqueur, Thomas, 1990. Making Sex. Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University 

Morawski, Jill, 1990. "Toward the Unimagined: Feminism 6c Epistemology in 
Psychology" Pp. 150-183 in Hare-Mustin ocMarecek (eds.), Making A 
Difference. New Haven: Yale University Press. 

Moi,Toril, 1989. "Patriarchal Thought 8c the Drive for Knowledge" Pp. 189-205 
in Teresa Brennan (ed.), Between Feminism & Psychoanalysis. London: 

Ragland- Sullivan, Ellie, 1991. "The Sexual Masquerade: A Lacanian Theory of 
Sexual Difference." Pp. 49-82 in Ellie Ragland- Sullivan 8c Mark Bracher 
(eds), Lacan & the Subject of Language. New York: Routledge. 

Sanday, Peggy, 1981. Female Power and Male Dominance. New York: Cambridge 
University Press. 

Sanday, Peggy, 1990. Fraternity Gang Rape. New York: New York University 

Spivak, Gayatri, 1989. "Feminism 6c Deconstruction: Negotiating with 
Unacknowledged Masculinism," Pp. 206-225 Teresa Brennan (ed.), Between 
Feminism & Psychoanalysis. London: Routledge. 

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Ellie Ragland- Sullivan 6c Mark Bracher (eds), Lacan dif the Subject of 
Language. New York: Routledge. 


Homework: A Reassessment of 

Scholarship on Homemakers and 

Housework with Implications 

for Future Study 


Meg Wilkes Karraker & 

Sue Hammons-Bryner 

Except for a brief burst of interest during the early 1970s (for 
example, Lopata 1971; Oakley 1974), housework and homemakers 
have received little attention in sociology. In view of the continuing 
decline in the number of married women who are full-time home- 
makers, 1 such a low level of interest may not seem surprising. This 
situation is unfortunate, however, when we consider the extent to 
which the study of homemakers and housework can inform the 
sociological study of change, family, gender, stratification, and 

In this paper we assess the state of scholarship regarding women 
who pursue domestic work in their homes (i.e., homemakers) with 
an eye toward synthesizing implications for theory, research, and 
teaching. We categorize the literature on homemakers and house- 
work into six areas: 

The changing status of homemakers 
The increased role conflict of homemakers 
The social psychology of homemaking 
Job characteristics of housework 
The importance of class, ethnicity, and race 
Displaced homemakers 
In addition, literature exists regarding the history of homemaking 
(e.g., Sklar 1973; Strasser 1982); domestic service occupations (e.g., 
Auman and Conry 1985; Wrigley 1991); and on men whose 
primary occupation is homemaking (e.g., Klauda 1991). These 
bodies of literature are not the focus of our paper. 

The Changing Status of Homemakers 

Although many women are full-time homemakers during some 
portion of their lives — usually at the beginning of their childbearing 
years and during the retirement years — the proportion of women 
engaged in full-time homemaking continues to decline as more 
women become employed. This decline is especially dramatic 
among married women: the percentage of married women in the 
labor force has risen from 12.3 in 1960 to 30.5 in 1988 (U. S. 
Department of Commerce 1991b). 


Researchers have ignored or discounted the changing social 
position of homemakers. One reason for this disregard is that full- 
time, exclusive homemakers in American society do not fit into 
standard indexes of occupational prestige. The job characteristics of 
housework are similar to those of other occupations, which usually 
are low in prestige and most notably include private household and 
other service work. One can argue that some of the job character- 
istics of home work parallel those of higher-prestige occupations, 
including teachers, managers, and artists. 

Further complicating the discussion of homemakers' status is the 
complexity of their socioeconomic status, as generally defined. 
Acker (1973) addresses these issues in her article as assumptions 
about women and stratification. Although we agree with Acker's 
criticisms of the sociology of stratification, the assumptions (e.g., 
that the family's social position is determined by that of the male 
head of the household) draw attention to the reality that homemak- 
ers may be members of a household or family from any social 

How can social status be assigned to homemakers with some 
degree of accuracy? The composite social status and social role 
configuration of the full-time homemaker wife of the professional 
is clearly different from that of the single mother who has decided 
to pursue higher education while maintaining a household. An 
individual's entire social status (and esteem) is closely tied not only 
to household wealth but to personally earned income. In the case of 
women whose occupation is exclusively homemaking, that earned 
income is zero. The absence of nondependent entitlement to 
pensions and social security is yet another indicator of depreciated 

A desire for higher general social status and esteem, as well as a 
desire for higher economic status, can motivate a woman to exit a 
full-time, exclusive homemaker role. Throughout this paper we will 
quote from an ethnographic study conducted by Hammons-Bryner 
(1991) at "Rural College." "Denise," one subject in that study, 


expressed this aspiration poignantly as she reflected on receiving the 
most prestigious academic award at "Rural College": 
You don't get awards keeping house. ..I 
wanted a separate identity from wife and 
mother. I wanted something for me, apart 
from my family (Hammons-Bryner 1991, 
pp. 151-52). 
We are struck by the distance which our discipline has not come 
since Acker's criticisms two decades ago. Our review of the chang- 
ing status of homemakers suggests that fruitful theoretical and 
methodological work could begin by focusing on two areas: (1) the 
impact of the changing status of homemakers on identity, especially 
esteem, formation and (2) the conceptualization of social status for 
full-time homemakers. 

The Increased Role Conflict of Homemakers 

The role sets of women occupying the homemaking role are 
remarkably diverse. Yet at a time when even Blondie has embarked 
on a career (Young and Drake 1991), sociologists seem slow to 
follow the popular media in examining either the lives of women 
who have exited full-time homemaking for careers or those of 
women who have elected to pursue full-time homemaking instead 
of the professional careers for which they were trained (e.g., Ehlert 

The women studied by Lopata (1971) in the Chicago area in the 
1960s and by Oakley (1974) in England in the 1970s were faced 
with the difficult choice between employment and homemaking. 
Yet because of the dramatic increases in the number of married 
women who are employed, especially the number of emploved 
women with children, the role conflict inherent in the lives of 
women balancing home work with outside roles touches a greater 
proportion of women now than ever before. Not onlv are emploved 
homemakers experiencing such role conflict but the increasing 
numbers of women entering higher education after marriage and/ 


or the arrival of children are experiencing role conflict as well. For 
such women, establishing priorities often means 

no time for home work, no time for kids, 

no time for the house, clothes stacked 

to the ceiling... I might be able to let 

my housework slide for a little while 

because if the kids need me worse, that's 

what I have to do (Hammons-Bryner 1991, 

p. 164). 
For such a meager reward, women juggling home, school, or work 
pay a high cost in deferred or missed educational achievement and 
personal satisfaction. 

A significant number of women (and men) feel strongly that at 
the least, mothers should care for young children in the home. In the 
words of "Toni," a nineteen-year-old woman attending "Rural 

I disagree with leaving babies with 

a caretaker. I will go back to work 

[after having a baby], but the first 

year of a child's life [is] one of the 

most precious. I do want to be there 

to see the first steps and hear the 

first words. I would feel cheated if 

I were not there (Hammons-Bryner 1991, 

p. 155) 
Younger women hold two beliefs: 1) the best child care provider 
is the mother in the home and 2) participation in child care is among 
the rewards to which women feel they are entitled. Although Toni 
plans to work outside the home, she adheres to that most basic 
element of a patriarchal system: the sex-typing of child care respon- 
sibilities and an ideology which has succeeded in persuading women 
that remaining at home is a sex-typed right. 

Toni almost certainly underestimates the cumulative conse- 
quences of her decision for her occupational status attainment over 


her lifetime, but she recognizes the price in family stress and role 

I realize that having two working parents 

in a household is somewhat of a challenge, 

but I feel that everything worth having is 

worth a little effort (Hammons-Bryner 

1991, p. 155). 
Toni and other women like her appear to assume that "each 
person [in a marriage] must make sacrifices and compromise" 
(Hammons-Bryner 1991, p. 155), but they rarely evaluate the 
balance of those sacrifices. Whenever Toni refers to specific sacri- 
fices, they are all made by women. She does not mention any 
possible sacrifices by men. 

A woman's employment status is the most accurate predictor of 
the amount of time she spends on housework (Berardo et al., 1987). 
A husband's participation in household tasks increases somewhat 
with his wife's income (Nyquist et al. 1985), but a wife's emplov- 
ment has little effect on the division of labor in the home (Broman 
1988; Maret and Finlay 1984). Describing this situation as "the 
second shift," Hochschild (1992) writes that the exodus of women 
from the home to the workplace has not been accompanied by a new 
view of marriage and work which would ease this transition. Most 
workplaces have remained inflexible in the face of the changing 
needs of workers (female as well as male) with families. Further, 
most men have yet to adapt to the changes in women's roles. 
Hochschild cites the disparity between the change in women's roles 
and the absence of change elsewhere in society as a case of profound 
structural strain. 

Study of productivity has a long tradition in the sociology of work 
(see, for example, Miller 1981; Tausky 1978), most notably begin- 
ning with the Hawthorne Studies (Mayo 1933) and continuing 
with the current heated discussions of American versus Japanese 
workers ("Are We Really That Lazy?" 1992). Housework, however, 
appears to have been exempted from scholarly consideration of the 
quality of work performance. 


Women of the 1990s, in contrast, are aware of variations in the 
quality of housework performance. Comparisons with the stan- 
dards set by their mothers appear to be particularly invidious. In the 
1990s, while juggling higher education, employment, child rearing, 
and housework, the daughters often feel that they do not come close 
to the previous generation's quality of performance. In the words of 
Denise, whose mother was a meticulous housekeeper, 

I'm busy with my son [who has cystic 

fibrosis] from the time he gets out 

of school until 8:00 p.m. Then I start 

[her emphasis] on supper (Hammons- 

Bryner 1991, p. 74). 
This review has sensitized us to the need for more research on the 
different processes through which women enter and exit the home- 
making role and the conflicts homemakers experience concerning 
homemaking tasks (especially child care and housekeeping stan- 
dards). The mechanisms through which women manage conflicts 
(and dissonance) as they make role shifts and as they manage these 
conflicts would be of particular interest, even beyond the study of 

The Social Psychology of Homemaking 

Gove and Tudor (1973) reported that women's traditional role 
(that is, as homemaker) contributes to the higher rate of certain 
types of mental illness among women. Additional research has 
focused on personality traits (e.g., Erdwins, Tver, and Mellinger 
1980), employment attitudes (e.g., Stake and Rogers 1989), and 
political opinions (e.g., Andersen and Cook 1985). 

Although women may believe that their work is important, 
research shows that women (both working-class and middle-class) 
find housework itself unsatisfying (Hochschild 1992). As the pro- 
portion of women electing the role of full-time homemaker de- 
clines, the devaluation of this work continues. Commercial house- 
keeping and child care services continue to grow, but offer substan- 
dard wages to their employees. Furthermore, the popular typifica- 


tions of homemaking tasks as boring and trivial has rendered 
homemaking a topic to be ignored by social psychologists. 

The denigration of home work parallels the denigration of the 
work of volunteers and the retired in American society. Those who 
do not earn wages may be perceived as sitting at home and doing 
nothing. This image contrasts with the very real "leisure gap" that 
exists for women who work one shift at a place of paid employment 
and a "second shift" at home (Hochschild 1992). 

The cultural context contributes to higher rates of certain types 
of mental illness among homemakers. We suspect that the trend 
toward fewer full-time homemakers has only exacerbated negative 
attitudes toward homemaking and has increased the negative social 
psychological consequences for homemakers. We suspect that 
because of continuing societal ambivalence regarding women's 
proper role priorities inside and outside the home, both the women 
who pursue homemaking and those who pursue employment full- 
time are likely to be defined as deviant, depending on the situation. 
Full-time homemakers are deviant because they labor at tasks that 
are perceived as boring, repetitive, and unimportant and they do so 
without pay! Employed women are deviant because they labor for 
money instead of for the love of their families. 

Because of the extent to which homemaking is increasingly a 
statistically atypical pursuit, social construction of the identity of a 
person who chooses or otherwise occupies such a role merits further 
research. For example, we wonder how homemakers compare to 
other women and to men on alienation, happiness, self-esteem, and 
other social psychological characteristics. Perhaps insights from the 
sociology of deviance apply here. 

In a similar vein, we would like to see more research on the impact 
of the homemaker role on the quality of life in families of women 
occupying that role. As noted earlier, the movement of women from 
the home to the workplace has not been accompanied by a new view 
of the links between work and family. How do families cope with the 
structural strain resulting from workplaces that have failed to 
respond to changes in women's roles? We might surmise that 


women who are employed part-time have the most satisfied fami- 
lies. We speculate that only the unavailability of interesting, hon- 
ored, secure, well-paid part-time work has limited women's election 
of this option. 

Job Characteristics of Housework 

In response to criticisms that sociologists have failed to consider 
women's labor at home as work, some sociologists have extended 
conceptualizations of work to include housework. Although this 
area includes some rather tedious statistics on (for example) who 
uses the microwave oven (Oropesa 1991), some of the research 
promises to link the more physical dimensions of the homemaker's 
job to social and psychological functioning (e.g., Reisine, Goodenow, 
and Grady 1987). 

Surely certain classic conceptualizations about other jobs could 
be extended to women's work at home. Durkheim's ([1893] 1964) 
research on division of labor, Marx's ([1844] 1960) on alienation, 
Douglass's ([1845]1990) on slavery, and Parkinson's (1962) on the 
links between work and time are untapped sources of illumination 
of the social structure of women's work at home. The failure of 
sociologists to apply concepts from Durkheim, Marx, Douglass, 
Parkinson, and others illustrates our contention that a double 
standard applies to the employment of sociological concepts to 
explain the world of men and the world of women. A similar 
complaint has been raised by others, including Bernard (1981). 

Durkheim, for example, posits that increased specialization 
accompanies societal change. Yet even as the self-sufficiency of 
American families evaporates, American society holds to the ideal 
of the wife/mother who does all tasks well, with no subcontracting 
(i.e., specialization). 

Marx argues that workers who repetitively perform routine task 
segments suffer from alienation. Yet just as women are glorified in 
American society for sacrificing for their families, they are casti- 
gated if they rebel against being caught in the assembly line of cook, 
clean, and cook again. 2 This arrangement is a peculiar variety of false 


consciousness, but it certainly benefits a capitalistic economic 
system and bolsters a patriarchal family system. 

Passive resistance, a concept drawn from studies of slavery, mav 
be applicable to theorizing about homemakers. Women may set 
artificially high standards for housework tasks as a mechanism to 
avoid further work. A woman scrubbing a floor is obviously busy and 
may be less likely to be interrupted by a family member to perform 
another task. Some full-time homemakers may choose to perform 
most major cleaning tasks in the presence of their husbands, with 
the implication that work not seen is work not appreciated. If he 
does not comment, she may call it to his attention. 

Parkinson (1962) maintained that work expands to fill the time 
allotted to complete it. Although "Parkinson's Law" offers one 
explanation for the reduction in average hours spent in housework 
by employed women, an alternative explanation may be that re- 
duced hours result from greater efficiency or lesser effectiveness (for 
example, lower standards of cleanliness). This result would seem to 
be associated with working outside the home; a woman would have 
to organize her time better. That is, it is not an alternative to 
Parkinson's Law but a corollary: less time is available for housework. 

Employed women use cleaning and laundry services more often, 
place their children in child care institutions earlier and more often, 
rely more heavily on convenience foods, and dine out more often 
than full-time homemakers. Critics may blame social problems on 
women's reduced commitment to the home and homemaking, and 
particularly on outside child care. We are struck by the extent to 
which distasteful, low-skill, repetitive tasks (which might be viewed 
as "make-work" and which are targets for streamlining, elimination, 
or contracting out in bureaucratic organizations) are elevated to 
sacred rites 3 in women's home work. 

The Importance of Class, Ethnicity, and Race 

Conspicuously absent from the literature on homemakers is 
scholarship that acknowledges the diversity among homemakers bv 
class, ethnicity, or race. Although social science research and literarv 


collections have included some discussion of women of color as 
domestic servants (for example, Anonymous 1972), our initial 
impression is that in homemaking, as in other areas, social class, 
ethnic, and race differences have been largely ignored. 

Race is an important factor in self-definitions of femininity and 
in self-valuation of gender-appropriate role behavior. For example, 
stereotypical division of family roles appears to be more likely in 
white families than in African-American families (Broman 1988; 
Maret and Finlay 1984; Taylor et al. 1991). Both popular writers 
and social scientists emphasize the difference in roles that black and 
white women have played in society and in their families (Karraker 
1989). In the words of a black clinical psychologist, 

The traditional role does not exist for 

the black woman. Historically, the black 

woman has been prepared to assume a 

responsibility the white woman has not... 

Accounting for some of the nontraditional 

behavior may be an internalization of the 

necessity to provide for her family... 

(Gump 1978, p. 351). 
Black women's self-definition (including their definitions of 
femininity) reflects a past of economic insecurity, a historic reliance 
of black families and communities on women's labor and leadership, 
and the dominant society's prejudices and expectations regarding 
black women (Collins 1986; Karraker 1989). Black women may see 
less conflict than white women in being independent, self-reliant, 
and work-oriented as well as compassionate, nurturant, and sensi- 
tive (Weitzman 1984). 

Black wives are more likely than white wives to expect and accept 
employment (Macke 1982; Scanzoni 1977). The concept of an- 
drogyny (little studied concerning racial differences; see Cook 
1985) may define the apparent contradictions in the character of 
black women's gender roles and their success at performing multiple 
roles with less conflict than their white counterparts (Karraker 


Billingsley (1968), Engram (1980), Gurin and Gaylord (1976), 
and Pinkney (1975) contend that black Americans are a subsystem 
of the larger society: they are subject to the same expectations but 
face additional obstacles in achieving those expectations. In other 
words, these writers argue that social class position, not race, 
determines differences in social roles (Karraker 1989). Some re- 
search among white ethnics supports the contention that race 
differences in gender-role orientation diminish with movement 
into the middle class (Howe 1976; Lopreato 1970). Given the 
recent debate over the "significance of race" (Wilson 1987), we 
would like to see more research on this intersection between class 
and ethnicity. We note that black feminist sociology has been 
particularly influential in focusing attention on the "intersections of 
multiple structures of domination" (Collins 1986, p. S19). 

Displaced Homemakers 

Like nonwhite women, the homemaker who loses financial 
support (through divorce, separation, desertion, or her spouse's 
death or disability) has received little attention from sociologists. 
(For an exception, see Crossman and Edmonson 1985.) 

The number of displaced homemakers (15.6 million in 1989) 
grows by 200,000 each year, according to the National Displaced 
Homemakers Network, a Washington-based lobbying and activist 
organization. Among widowed and divorced women, fifty-seven 
percent are poor or nearly poor. Cheryl Henderson, head of the 
Network, warns that "homemaking is becoming a high-risk occu- 
pation"; 22 million married homemakers risk displacement if their 
husbands die or divorce them (Eskey 1990, p. 1J). Only a man stands 
between the full-time homemaker and poverty. 

Forty-five percent of displaced homemakers have less than a 
high school education; they need education, job training, and 
housing to be economically self-sufficient (Eskev 1990). These 
homemakers and their families are at particular risk for downward 
mobility and poverty. Even women with higher education share 
these economic risks, should they become displaced. Yet because of 


the persistence of wage inequity 4 , even women who have remained 
employed during their marriages are likely to experience relative, if 
not absolute, deprivation. 

In a study of the role of resources in displaced homemakers' 
assumption of the provider role, Crossman and Edmondson (1985, 
p. 465) found that "past employment experience did not preclude 
displacement." Certainly, understanding of both the antecedents 
and the consequences of displacement would benefit from addi- 
tional study. 


Study of the social worlds of men whose primary occupation is 
homemaking can sharpen awareness of several important issues, 
although this topic is not the focus of our paper. Male homemakers 
come to the role in a variety of ways. Some men increase their 
homemaking responsibilities after the end of a relationship in which 
another person filled the role expectations of the homemaker. In a 
series of articles on single men, Klauda (1991) reports that single 
men are more likely than single women to live in dependent 
relationships. 5 One man says he "had always left the cooking, 
cleaning, and bill-paying to his wife" (Klauda 1991, p. 14A). After 
his divorce, he moved in with a male friend and stayed there in 
exchange for cleaning the friend's house. In a later arrangement, the 
same man moved in with his girlfriend and assumed responsibilities 
for cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Other men become homemak- 
ers after unemployment or retirement. The variety of avenues to 
homemaking for men can focus attention on the heterogeneity 
among homemakers (including different role expectations, role 
performance, and social psychological adjustment). 

Most important the comparison and the contrast between female 
and male homemakers provide an excellent opportunity to examine 
the social construction of homemaking. In the 1980s movie Mr. 
Mom, one of the comic scenes revolves around the predicament in 
which the protagonist, played by Michael Keaton: he finds his 
friendships and fills his leisure time (by playing cards) with the only 


other adults at home during the day — all women. The ridicule 
directed toward men who do housework has two outcomes: 1) the 
social control of men and 2) the denigration of the work. The latter 
has far-reaching consequences for both the social construction of 
housework and the formation of self-esteem among women who 
engage in this work. The image of men doing housework (Dagwood 
wearing an apron, for example) is amusing precisely because house- 
work is something that only women do. 

With its stereotyped connections to femininity (and 
unmasculinity) and to exclusively same-sex networks of social 
relations, homemaking provides sociologists with a means of exam- 
ining sexuality, friendship, group dynamics, and the extent to which 
the social organization of work is gendered in postmodern society. 
In that regard, we conclude, the sociology of home work (and much 
other work as well) should be viewed through a gender model, not 
through the traditional job model 6 . 

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annual meetings of the 
Midwest Sociological Society, April 3, 1992, Kansas City, Missouri. 

The authors share equal responsibility for this work, order of authorship is 
arvitrary. Please direct correspondence to Hammons-Bryner. 


1 The percentage of women who are full-time homemakers — that is, those 
who are not in the labor force — decreased from 68.1 percent in 1960 to 42.2 
percent in 1989 (U. S. Department of Commerce 1991a). 

2 Note such movies as "Woman under the Influence" and, more recently, 
"Thelma and Louise." Also, in the election of 1992, great media attention was 
devoted to "family values," and the cookie-baking skills of the wives of the 

3 To extend the metaphor, we recall a quotation from comedian Roseanne 
Barr Arnold: "I hate to be called a homemaker; I prefer 'domestic goddess.'" 


4 As of March 1990, the median annual income of women working year-round 
full-time was $18,778, 68 percent of men's median annual earnings of $27,430 
(U.S. Department of Commerce 1991c). 

5 One of seven single men age twenty- five and older is living in a dependent 
relationship, compared to one often single women of that age (Klauda 1991). 

6 For a discussion of job versus gender models, see Feldberg and Glenn (1982). 


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Harbinger of Violence: 
A Young Woman's First Kiss 

Richard]. Alapack 

When is violence in heterosexual adolescent relationships first 
encountered? When does the young female initially face sexual 
alienation in her interactions with males, or experience incipient 
victimhood? At what place does it become evident, experientially, 
that males (mis)understand her as a sexual object, someone to be 
'taken'? The purpose of this report is to demonstrate that one place 
at which it happens is during the touch of her first 'real' adolescent 

Context of the Research 

This study emerged out of a comprehensive, phenomenologi- 
cally oriented research project on adolescent relationships which has 
included studies of Adolescent First Love (Alapack 1984b), the 
Outlaw Relationship (Alapack 1975), Leaving Home (Alapack 
1984a), and the Adolescent First Kiss (Alapack 1991). The finding 
of the First Kiss study promoted further inquiry into the incipient 
violence of the way it takes place. This study reports the results of 
a descriptive, qualitative pursuit of that theme. 


Since a phenomenologically oriented human scientific approach 
provides the conceptual foundation of this study, the method 
employed is descriptive/qualitative. In an attempt to get the story 
'out of the horses' mouths', written protocols were gathered from 
fifty-seven females who responded to the following stimulus: "De- 
scribe your first 'real' adolescent kiss, the one which was not just a 
'peck'." The subjects included eleven adolescents who were sixteen 
years old, twenty-seven first year college students and nine graduate 
students. Of the total number of respondents, twelve wrote narra- 
tives spliced with alienation or violence. Five of those agreed to 
cooperate in a qualitative research interview so that the written 
sketch of their experience might be elaborated and amplified. The 
average length of the interviews was ninety minutes. 



By the time the young woman anticipates or confronts her first 
kiss predicament she shows the effects of socialization along gender 
lines. Alarmingly, she is already oriented toward abuse. Already she 
has found herself blushing in the presence of the other-gendered 
person, often in response to sounds of 'wolf whistles' which accent 
her burgeoning sexuality, or to the 'once over look' or 'second glance' 
stares, which undress her or ravish her. Thus when first kiss is an 
issue, she has already experienced assault by masculine eyes. She has 
been rendered bodily vulnerable. The masculine glance has reduced 
her to prey', as if the very fact that her body is developing into a 
woman has turned her into 'fair game'. Her first kiss will reinforce 
her acquaintanceship with violence if it should turn out to be 
assaulting, revolting or an act of betrayal. Especially if the experi- 
ence of being 'pawed' accompanies it, she is left raw. She is left 
primed, too, for further abuse. 

Ambigious Anticipation 

What is the meaning of the young female adolescent's anticipa- 
tion of kissing? Previous research had shown that both genders, 
while still inexperienced in "the subtle and delicate art of smooching", 
await the first touch of lips both eagerly and with dread, and both 
are plagued with layer after layer of increasingly difficult and 
awkward questions (Alapack 1991, pg.50). But intergender differ- 
ences glare. 

To the male the kiss appears both as an 'insurmountable thresh- 
old', an 'important hurdle' or 'barrier' on the road to becoming an 
adult, and also as 'a baptism under fire', 'a true test under game 
conditions', 'a trial by whichever might burn the most, acid or flame!' 
Such descriptions evoke the image of a football player, with a case 
of the 'butterflies', awaiting the opening kickoff. For the young 
woman the ambiguity takes a different turn. In her case the answer 
to the question whether or not to kiss pivots around desirability. She 
is plagued by a thinly veiled agony concerning his response to her 
response to his overture. Some descriptions exemplify this anxiety: 


"If I chicken out when he tries to kiss me, will he ever phone me or 
ask me out again?" "Will he consider me 'frigid' if I refuse?" Or 
might he "think I'm a 'cheap sleaze' if I should kiss back, especially 
if I steal the initiative?" "What will I do if he tries to 'tongue kiss' me, 
or wants 'to pet'?" "Mother says guys only want one 'thing'. Does he 
think a kiss is just first base, a brief stop on his way to a home run?" 
However she might act, she wonders "if the guy will put up a poster 
at school the next day proclaiming it." And she worries "what tales 
he might tell his pals in the locker room." 

Reflection on the above descriptions indicates that even if the 
adolescent female might be 'colossally curious' about kissing, and 
supremely ready for it, still she basically is in an attitude of a 
respondent, of someone wanting to please or to be pleasing. Even 
if she should orchestrate the kiss, the meaning of it to him domi- 
nates her consciousness. An example: A female remembers being 
twelve years old, curious and romantic, but not yet passionate. At 
summer camp she "set up" the most popular male camper. Listen to 
her series of maneuvers: "One rainy day I was lying on the couch in 
the Recreation Hall reading a comic book, poised in such a way that 
he was bound to notice me." Later she manipulated him into an 
ambiguous conversation, "stilted but strangely different from our 
previous talks." When he escorted her to her cabin after the 
marshmallow roast, she "stepped up on step to subtly accommodate 
for the height differences." He kissed her. She "performed." "I found 
myself mentally stepping back, thinking: 'no rockets, fireworks, 
music or stars.' I had to fake enjoyment, humor him. But I felt 
nothing! Later I sat on my bed and contemplated becoming a nun!" 
Even though she felt, at such a tender age, the need "to perform", 
and even though that need might later show itself in faking orgasm, 
still that description is gently comical compared to outcomes which 
are assaultive, repulsive and treacherous. 

The Assaultive Kiss 

Unexpected kisses, ones which intrude into the young woman's 
life-space before she is ready or willing, are physically alienating and 


psychically bruising. One young woman describes the 'battle' that 
followed her 'offer': "Finally it hit: the invasion of Normandy was 
relived. I had properly closed my eyes and offered my lips when he 
placed his hands on my shoulder. I had, in my romantic naivete, 
anticipated a gentle kiss on the lips. Instead he pried them open 
somehow and invaded my mouth with what felt like his whole face. 
I was later relieved to discern it was only his tongue." 

Another young woman's story shows that it often turns out to be 
more than a mere war'. She was working a summer job at a biblical 
wax museum. A much older man frequented it and would stop to 
chat with her. One evening he stayed until closing time to help her 
lock up. She was wary as she finished her chores. As they walked out 
of the building she wanted a quick getaway. The stranger moved 
toward her, held her, and French kissed her: "I tore myself away 
from him, said goodbye and walked away quickly, yet trying to give 
the impression of a nonchalant stroll. As soon as I hit the end of the 
block to turn, I ran as fast as I could." The shock of the assault was 
nothing compared to the lingering feelings: "a shadow of hurt, a 
glimpse of fear, maybe even the invasion or rape"; the feeling that 
"my dandelion possibilities had been penetrated by a longing 

The Revolting Kiss 

Some females experience the kiss when they are still too innocent 
to be wary. The subsequent incongruent kiss is repulsive. Some 

"I was the proverbial 'sweet sixteen' lass. Stupidly I said, 'I don't 
know how to kiss'. He said he was gonna teach me. I was tense. It 
was a 'peck' at first. I had no idea of what to do with my hands. I felt 
humiliated that I had to be told where to put them. Then it turned 
into a 'guided tour'. I couldn't wait till this 'memorable experience' 
was over." 

Another female recalls: "I was shaking and blushing from head 
to foot, feeling helpless. First I was alarmed when his tongue started 
exploring my mouth. I didn't expect the moving of his hands all over 


my body, or the moving of his hands to move my hands all over him. 
He started breathing heavier. I felt a heat come over me. It made me 
feel profoundly ashamed. I wanted to slap his face." 

A third female was fourteen years old "in the last careless, carefree 
summer of girlhood". "He kissed me violently and pawed me all 
over. When I started to cry, he let me go." Perhaps she had captured 
the sense of all premature first kisses: "I didn't want it to count. I 
wanted to wipe it off as I rubbed off the saliva. I couldn't. It couldn't 
be reversed; I couldn't be unkissed again. And the moisture, I could 
feel it, smell it, even though it was wiped. It made me nauseous. I 
felt like I was going to throw up." 

The Treacherous Kiss 

We are familiar with the fact that the rapist is most often not a 
stranger, but a family friend, or a highly admired, respected other. 
That fact has made it difficult for the young woman to report an 
assault: she has been betrayed; she does not expect to be believed. 
The following account demonstrates that the same pattern takes 
place around the first kiss. 

"I was waiting for a boy to come and visit me for the afternoon," 
the narrative begins. It was a sunny fall Georgia afternoon. She was 
excited. It was a contemporary version of waiting for a "gentleman 
caller" in the South. "I felt 'special' while waiting for the guy, doing 
all the grown-up womanly things I had been taught — cleaning, 
primping, making sure there was the right food in the house, that 
the glasses were clean, etc." It was her "first grown up date" that she 
was expecting, a fellow old enough to drive a car. She writes: "I was 
wearing a dark brown velvet, thickly gathered shirt. The neckline 
had a fine line of white. I remember holding myself tall, my tummv 
in, twirling in front of the mirror to see how I looked." The betrayal 
occurs as she turns to exit the kitchen pantry where she had just 
dumped trash. She encounters the family friend: 

"Dr. M. was standing in the doorway, smoking a cigar, wearing 
tortoise glasses which hid what I then used to describe as waterv bug 
eyes. His neck was jutting forward just like a chicken's. I had never 


liked this man, my father's friend, a man my mother admired and 
would hear nothing bad about, because he was brilliant, a university 
full professor. He gave my teenage skin gooseflesh of the creepy, 
crawly variety. As he stood in front of me, blocking my path, 
grinning — I remember he had a gold crown which glittered — I 
asked him what he was doing there. I was surprised by him, but not 
scared of him, never having heard or experienced sexual abuse by an 
'older' man toward a young girl. I had been promised the living room 
for my date and didn't want any other company encroaching on my 
privacy. He said, "You look beautiful." I smiled politely. Then, he 
put his hand on my shoulder and kissed me open mouthed and stuck 
his big, fat, sloppy tongue inside my mouth. I was totally disgusted, 
shocked, taken aback. When he started to kiss me, I had let him. 
Brought-up to be extremely polite and docile to older people, 
especially men, I hadn't wanted him to touch my lips: but it was not 
until he intruded his tongue into my mouth that I winced and 
pushed him away. His tongue felt so strong, like a barrel that I 
couldn't fight against. His face reddened when I pushed, and he 
said, "I'm sorry. Please don't tell your mother. She won't under- 
stand. You were just... so beautiful. Just say I dropped by for a 
moment and had to leave." Then he was gone; he evaporated. The 
front door bell rang; I went to answer it; it was my date. I put the 
incident behind and didn't think of it again. I never told my mother 
or father. I would never have discussed anything that intimate, 
personal or sexual with my father and didn't believe my mother 
would believe me. I always avoided Dr. M. and his visits to our house 
became fewer and fewer. Years later, after he died, when my mother 
was raving on and on about what a wonderful man he was, I could 
contain myself no longer. I was furious; I thought he was an evil, 
slimy, lecherous old man. I told my mother about it. She didn't 
believe me — Dr. M., the educated, erudite gentleman would never 
do such a thing. End of conversation." 

This particular woman's reflections on the aftermath of her first 
kiss showcase typical tactics to which young women resort in order 
to cope with the introduction to violence. "I never counted that 


kiss," she writes. "It wasn't mine. I wasn't there, present. Lips, skin, 
a mouth were involved in the kiss. Me, myself, and I were absent." 
Only by an act of alienating, schizoid-like detachment was she able 
to affirm that the kiss was "stolen" from her yet simultaneously 
became "the kiss that never was." She elaborates the mental gymnas- 
tics she utilized so that she could handle the ambiguity of not 
trusting men, (especially older/mature men), and of not trusting 
herself. "There was something inherently powerful and dangerous 
about me, wasn't there?!" "That dangerous part of me", she contin- 
ues, "was not me, it was only what others saw. I was tucked away 
inside where no one could catch me, unless I wanted them to." She 
depicts the process of creating a "disjunction: a 'space of inviolability' 
between her essential self and her inconsequential skin. "I knew how 
to be present and absent at the same time", she concludes, indicating 
that the play-act allowed her "to remain safe, untouched, inviolate." 


Social science is silent about the Adolescent First Kiss. No 
empirical study of it can be found in developmental literature. There 
is a dearth of published empirical evidence about adolescent kissing 
in general. Several adolescent psychology texts do not mention it at 
all. Information about kissing at any age is scant in all sexuality texts. 
Whenever psychologists or sexologists do consider the phenom- 
enon, they reduce it to a single meaning or purpose: a form of 
foreplay, a touch executed with genital intercourse the presumed 

This scientific institutionalization of the kiss as the warm-up for 
the main event, or the appetizer before gourmet lovemaking, onlv 
perpetuates alienation between the genders, and supports the view 
that the female is the victim, a 'babe' or the 'dish'. 

According to Giorgi (1970) there is a pervasive dialectical 
relationship in psychology between approach, method, and content. 
The dominant research paradigm in our culture, technological 
pragmatics, is interlaced with a one-dimensional tool, quantifica- 
tion. Thus the social scientist is ill-equipped to deal with homey 


phenomena, with experiences and meanings that are part of the 
everyday life-world. In terms of adolescence, relevant phenomena 
such as the blush, the first kiss, the hickey, the difference between 
being caressed and being 'pawed', are overlooked as if too trivial to 
consider worth scientific investigation. The consequence is that 
social science ignores basic steps in the development of sexuality, 
especially in the building of interpersonal relationships. 

Since adolescent kissing is not considered a research problem by 
mainstream investigators, information about it is woefully lacking 
to parents, educators and therapists. Adults typically do not help 
adolescents to orient to their first kiss in an attitude of relaxed 
enthusiasm. In the absence of wholesome, proactive direction, the 
young female too frequently experiences a kiss that saddles her with 
feelings of shame, humiliation, disgust and self-loathing. If violence 
might start with a kiss, then with dialogue about it adults should 
begin to deconstruct violence out of the male-female encounter. 


Alapack, R.J. (1975). The outlaw relationship: an existential phenomenological 
reflection upon the transition from adolescence to adulthood. In A. Giorgi, 
C. Fischer, &c E. Murray (Eds.), Duquesne Studies in Phenomenological 
Psychology (vol. 2). Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. 

Alapack, R. J. & Alapack, M.C. L. (1984a). The hinge of the door to authentic 
adulthood: A Kierkegaardian inspired synthesis of the meaning of leaving 
home. Journal of 'Phenomenological Psychology, 15, (1), 45-69. 

Alapack, R.J. (1984b). Adolescent first love. In C. M. Aanstoos (Ed.) Exploring 
the Lived World: Readings in Phenomenological Psychology (vol. 23). Carrollton, 
Georgia: West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences. 

Alapack, R.J. (1991). Adolescent First Kiss. The Humanistic Psychologist, 19, (1), 

Giorgi, A. (1970). Psychology as a human science. New York: Harper &c Row. 




Art of Discovery: Experiencing 
Kate Chopin's "The Storm" 

Ellen Barker 

In The Prospect of Rhetoric, published in 1971, Wayne Booth 
asserts that rhetoric is "the art of changing men's minds" (p. 95), and 
more recently, Richard McKeon in "Philosophy of Communication 
and the Arts" reaffirms that "the new art of rhetoric is the art of 
discovery" (1987, p. 110). If the function of rhetoric is to change 
"men's minds" through an act of "discovery," how do authors 
accomplish the task of directing their audiences to a meaning of 
their fiction? What assumptions do authors make about the shared 
experiences of their interpretive communities and the ability of 
these communities to follow the prompts within the text to lead not 
only to an awareness of the text's meaning but to individual self- 

"Discovering" the text occurs through the act of reading where 
readers undergo a series of transformations, such as Wayne Booth 
describes in The Rhetoric of Fiction'. 

The author creates ... an image of himself and 
another image of his reader, he makes his reader, as 
he makes his second self, and the most successful 
reading is one in which the created selves, author and 
reader, can find complete agreement. (1983, p. 138) 
However, reaching a point of unified agreement between author 
and reader is not always easily accomplished when a reader comes to 
a work with varying expectations about the work and with beliefs 
created by class, gender, race, and historical period, to name only a 
few. For Wolfgang Iser (1974, p. 30), rhetoric can be used as a 
"guiding influence to help the reader produce the meaning of the 
text, but his participation is something that goes far beyond the 
scope of this influence" (30). The reader has to be guided into an 
awareness of the text by certain rhetorical strategies. Such partici- 
pation enables the reader to take an interpretative role equal in value 
to that of the author and provides the foundation for communica- 
tion between author and reader. The reader then "discovers" the 
meaning of the text and, as Iser notes, "discovers a new reality 
through a fiction which ... is different from the world he himself 


is used to; and he discovers the deficiencies inherent in prevalent 
norms and in his own restricted behavior" (1974, p. xiii). 

In Kate Chopin's "The Storm," for instance, her reading audi- 
ence is asked to take part in another culture, another social reality, 
to lay aside biases about gender and about roles in a marriage, and 
to examine some larger moral and philosophical concerns and 
through those experiences come to an understanding of Chopin's 
ultimate purpose as a feminist writer. More importantly, the reading 
should persuade the audience to accept the situations provided in 
the story and apply these to their own lives, either challenging or 
solidifying their established values and perspectives, but ultimately, 
in some way, "changing" their minds, enabling "discovery" of a "new 

Kate Chopin activates the reader's faculties to make meaning out 
of the text through the narrative technique defined by an "implied 
author" who chooses what the reader reads through creation of plot, 
character, and setting. These textual clues provided by the third 
person omniscient narrator invite the reader's active participation; 
therefore, the reader assists in the formulation of the story and can 
come to a more unified understanding of the story. 

In both subject and form, Chopin revolted against tradition and 
authority and urged her readers to take a close look at the submerged 
lives of women and to understand the root causes of their unequal 
positon in American society. She is one of the first early American 
writers to trace the subject of women's sexuality as a symbol of 
freedom. "The Storm," in particular, deals with the issue of a 
woman's sexual freedom and the contradiction that sometimes 
exists between truth and this freedom. Although the story is not 
solely about Claxita, its general focus is on her and her family. Her 
afternoon of lovemaking with Alcee, a former lover and a man who 
is not her husband or of the same social class, calls into question the 
occasional constraints of conjugal love and that a woman possesses 
sexual desires of equal intensity to any man's. Certainly this was not 
a welcomed topic for the typical reader of the late nineteenth 
century, but even today's readers might have difficulty with what 


seems to be an amoral response to Calixta and Alcee's romantic 
interlude. Sex between the two is elating, full of mutual passion and 
joy. At the conclusion of the story, the storm, a natural event that 
seems to sanction their adulterous interlude, "passed and everyone 
was happy" (p. 403). The task of Chopin's "implied author," then, 
is to deliver this theme through the detached observer who makes 
no moral judgment, but who supplies an objective narration of 
events so that Chopin's reader can understand a woman's passions 
and her rights to these passions, and through the process of this 
understanding, become open to actual change. 

The physical structure of the story itself should awaken the 
reader's curiosity and stimulate intellectual involvement. "The 
Storm" is narrated in five separate vignettes. The first introduces 
Bibi, Calixta's son, and Bobinot, Calixta's husband, who are out 
running a household errand. The impending storm is first noted 
through their eyes. They comment on their concern for Calixta, 
who has been left alone, and Bobinot even buys a special can of 
shrimp as a gift for her. When the scene closes, Bobinot and Bibi are 
resting comfortably together, Bibi unafraid with his hand on his 
father's knee. This scene promotes the image of a happy, unified 

Section two introduces Calixta seated at a sewing machine 
performing a traditionally assigned female task and a task Per 
Seyersted sites as a popular metaphor for sexual intercourse (p. 167). 
She feels no uneasiness for Bibi and Bobinot's safety, a narrative 
observation that counters Bibi and Bobinot's apparent concerns; 
however, the narrator's description indicates that she is not callous 
toward them but is too engaged in her work to even notice the storm. 
When she realizes that the storm is approaching, she quickly rises 
from her work to go outdoors and collect her husband's Sundav 
clothes from the front gallery where she had left them to air. All of 
this work indicates the reciprocal nature of Calixta's relationship 
with Bobinot: she does for him; he does for her and once again 
demonstrates that they represent a typical happy family. To empha- 
size Chopin's feminist message, however, the narrator clearly de- 


fines Calixta's role of mother and of homemaker to help clarify her 
final point, which is the need to redefine the then existing percep- 
tions of women and their roles. 

When she runs outside to retrieve her husband's clothes, she sees 
Alcee Laballiere, a former lover before her marriage. The narrator 
tells us that "she had not seen him very often since her marriage, and 
never alone" (p. 399). When the rain begins, Alcee asks if he can take 
shelter under an outside projection, expressing his genuine "inten- 
tion to remain outside" (p. 400), once again information the narrator 
provides. However, the narrator also describes the powerful attrac- 
tion between the two by highlighting Calixta's reaction to seeing her 
former lover again: "his voice and her own startled her as if from a 
trance" (p. 400). 

When it becomes clear that the storm will be too intense for Alcee 
to remain outside as he had originally intended, he assists her by 
bringing in Bobinot's trousers, a symbolic suggestion by the narrator 
of the sexual betrayal that is to occur, and he brings in Bibi's jacket 
"that was about to be carried away by a sudden gust of wind" (p. 400). 
Certainly the sudden gust of wind and the storm figuratively signify 
the eventual "carrying away" of sexual loyalty pledged by a marriage 
vow and pose a situational threat to this already established happy 
family. The careful reader would be aware that the conditions 
leaving these two former romantic partners alone are potentially 
threatening. Further foreshadowing is provided when the narrator 
shifts the point of view and directs commentary to Calixta's physical 
attributes. She is "a little fuller of figure than five years before . . .; 
but she had lost nothing of her vivacity" (p. 400). From a somewhat 
sensual description of Calixta, the narrator shifts again to a descrip- 
tion of the house's interior, stopping with a description of the 
bedroom. Its door is open: "the room with its white, monumental 
bed, its closed shutters, looked dim and mysterious" (p. 400), almost 
as if it were a dimly lit sanctuary. In the late 1800's, of course, it 
would have been unthinkable to most people to describe the 
bedroom of a married couple, particularly one that would be violated 
by one adulterous moment. 


The narrator quickly shifts again into a discussion of the storm 
and its climax. Its threatening nature frightens Calixta and causes 
her to express concern for her son, hoping that "Bobinot's got sense 
enough to come in out of a cyclone" (p. 400). She goes to her window 
to get a more direct view of the storm, and Alcee intuitively follows. 
When lightning strikes a nearby tree, Calixta becomes inconsolable, 
and, as the narrator tells us, Alcee "unthinkingly" (p. 401) draws her 
to him, but this action "aroused all the old-time infatuation and 
desire for her flesh" (p. 401). Once again, any emotions of desire are 
filtered through the narrator's detached position. Neither Alcee nor 
Calixta comment on their attraction to the other or on their desire 
to consumate this attraction. The narrator, not Alcee, describes her 
lips as being 

red and moist as a pomegranate seed. Her white 
neck and a glimpse of her full, firm bosom disturbed 
him powerfully. As he glanced up at him the fear in 
her liquid blue eyes had given place to a drowsy 
gleam that unconsciously betrayed a sensuous de- 
sire. He looked down into her eyes and there was 
nothing for him to do but to gather her lips in a kiss. 
It reminded him of Assumption, (p. 403) 
Because the narrator describes these events and emotions, they 
become a mere statement of fact rather than an emotionally complex 
network of desires where one exerts one's will over the other. 

At this point it becomes clear that their passion will culminate in 
sexual union, but often readers are confused by their own values and 
beliefs and have trouble accepting this sexual liason, especially when 
both partners are married. In fact, Calixta usually bears the brunt of 
most moral criticism. The implied author has created her as a 
mother and a wife, and in the eyes of most readers, she should not 
participate in such adulterous behavior. Instead, Calixta's response 
is just as passionate as Alcee's: "Her lips seemed in a manner free to 
be tasted, as well as her round, white throat and her white breasts" 
(p. 401). Rather than writhing in guilt, she laughs while she lays in 
Alcee's arms, throughly enjoying this unexpected sexual interlude. 


Through the voice of the narrator, Chopin's own voice is heard as 
she asserts that it is a woman's "birthright" to enjoy sex and passion 
equal to any man's and that because sex is a natural act, neither 
character should be judged (p. 401): 

She was a revelation in that dim, mysterious cham- 
ber; as white as the couch she lay upon. Her firm, 
elastic flesh that was knowing for the first time its 
birthright, was like a creamy lily that the sun invites 
to contribute its breath and perfume to the undying 
life of the world, (p. 401) 
Because pleasure is asserted not merely as a possibility but as a right 
for a woman, Calixta, in this instance, teaches Alcee, and perhaps 
all mankind, that "guile and trickery" (p. 401) are not an integral part 
of a woman's response in lovemaking. 

In part four the reader learns that Alcee, too, has a family. His 
wife Clarisse is away visiting her family in Mississippi. Upon his 
return from his afternoon sexual frolic, he writes a loving letter to his 
wife, again, not to confess any sin or to beg for forgiveness. Instead 
he urges her to stay longer in Mississippi if she wishes; he is "getting 
on nicely" (p. 402). There is no attempt by the narrator to miscon- 
strue this statement or to view it in light of Alcee's recent indiscre- 
tion. The narrator explains that "he was willing to bear the separa- 
tion a while longer — realizing that their [his family's] health and 
pleasure were the first things to be considered" (p. 403). There is no 
cynicism in the narrator's remarks, only statement of genuine fact. 
The story concludes with Clarrisse's delight in receiving Alcee's 
letter and in her relief at having the option of more time apart. She 
was enjoying her time with friends and family, but more importantly 
she was glad to be released from the sexual obligation imposed by 
marriage. Her separation from Alcee restores her to the "pleasant 
liberty of her maiden days" (p. 403). As the narrator adds, "devoted 
as she was to her husband, their intimate conjugal life was some- 
thing which she was more than willing to forego for awhile" (p. 403). 
Readers who come to this work with a set of values based on 
stereotypical notions most likely have trouble accepting that when 


the storm concludes, Alcee gets up and rides away. Bobinot and Bibi 
return home shortly after the torid lovemaking scene, leaving 
Calixta time enough to prepare supper. She rushes out to greet both, 
clasping her son and "kissing him effusively" (p. 402). She "seemed 
to express nothing but satisfaction at their safe return" (p. 402). 
There is no guilt-ridden confession, no act of contrition, no other 
desire beyond seeing her family again and resuming life as normal. 
No one pays for this afternoon of sexual betrayal. Instead, as the 
narrator blithely tells us, "So the storm passed and everyone was 
happy," not an immediately satisfactory conclusion for most readers 
(p. 403). 

It is at this point that reader involvement is most crucial. If 
readers do feel prone to judge either party, they are not getting the 
support they need from the implied author whose narrator has 
supplied an objective series of events. If Chopin is making a 
comment on a woman's right to participate in sexual pleasure 
without being duly punished, perhaps leaving readers in a position 
to judge leaves them also in a position to help her prove her point. 
If readers are prone to judge Calixta harshly, then they are exhibiting 
the type of repressive behavior that condemns a woman when she 
expresses her sexual desires. In this way they become a part of the 
text because they stereotype women and women's feeling and have 
categorized women into traditional roles. By initially becoming a 
judge or oppressor, the reader can know the type of oppression that 
nineteenth and twentieth century women have felt when they have 
tried to express themselves naturally in a male-dominated society; 
thus through such first-hand experience, recognition and reform 
may actually occur. 

Sex, as Chopin hopes to emphasize through the story, is natural 
and as an act sanctioned by nature should never be viewed as 
indecient or immoral. In fact, the narrator's deliberate description, 
makes it appear that all of nature sanctioned the sexual encounter 
between Calixta and Alcee. As soon as the torrent was over, "the sun 
was turning the glistening green world into a palace of gems" (p. 
402). These details create a sense of cosmic joy and mystery as Alcee 


and Calixta become one with each other and with the elements. The 
narrator factually reaffirms that "they seemed to swoon together at 
the very borderland of life's mystery" (p. 401). Even the title of the 
story sanctions their union. Commenting on the French definition 
of the word storm, Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant (1988, p. 
708) identify the storm as having a "romantic theme that symbolizes 
the aspirations of natural man toward a life less banal, a life 
tormented, agitated, burning with passion — a love of storms 
betrays a need of intensity in existence!" 

Alcee's allusion to Assumption, a religious holiday celebrating 
the Assumption of the Virgin into heavenly bliss, as well as being a 
place-name where he had once kissed Calixta in an earlier story, 
suggests to Anna Elfenbein, in Women on the Color Line, the 
secularization of religious experience and the elevation of sexual 
experience to the status of religious sacrament" (1989, p. 140). 
Thus, in telling the tale, the narrator inserts varied religious imagery 
along the way. The bedroom is described as an almost holy place. 
Bobinot's Sunday clothes, a symbol of his sexuality, are hanging on 
the gallery. Alcee later carries in these trousers to save them from the 

That Alcee and Calixta's sexual experience is part of a natural act 
frees them from guilt and from any emotional repercussions if they 
confess their indiscretion to their families. The storm that ignites 
their passion also saves them from any devastating confrontations. 
In Calixta and Alcee's passion, man and woman equally participate 
in one of the mysteries of nature. The essence of this mystery as 
described through Chopin's implied authorship is a revelation of 
oneness of man, woman, and nature in an experience that precludes 
moral judgment. 

Participation in the sexual act without moral repercussions 
represents a significant element of freedom for Chopin and for her 
readers. It will hopefully set women free to be themselves and to 
liberate themselves from society's elimination of certain basic rights. 
It could even be concluded that Alcee's brief visit is beneficial to all. 
Bobinot and Bibi gain as Calixta appears to be more amiable toward 


them. With her rejuvenated spirit, she enlivens her family so that 
they all "laughed much and so loud that anyone might have heard 
them as far away as Laballiere's" (p. 402). Their union frees Calixta 
and Alcee briefly from the boring sexual routine of their physically 
unsatisfying marriages, and it frees them to complete an unfinished 
relationship that began long ago. Clarisse also benefits because she 
is permitted to return to the satisying experience of her youth and, 
for awhile, forgo the burden of wifely sexual obligations. Even the 
tone of the story figures into the greater message of freedom. While 
it is detached and unsentimental, it is also warm and "serenely free" 
(Seyersted 1969, p. 168). 

Once Kate Chopin remarked, in reaction to criticism of the 
shocking portrayals of women's feelings in her fiction, "Sometimes 
I feel as if I should like to get a good, remunerative job to do the 
thinking for some people" (qtd. in Ewell 1986, p. 21). Of course, it 
could be that her writing was a way to do the "thinking for some 
people" with the hope that the final effect would be "changing men's 
minds." Certainly Kate Chopin exerted a powerful influence over 
the minds of her readers, and she must have realized, too, that her 
reading public was not ready for the revolutionary statement housed 
within "The Storm." It was never published during her lifetime. 
Wolfgang Iser reminds us that the act of discovery through the 
reading of a work is a form of "esthetic pleasure" (1974, p. xiii) 
because it offers the reader two separate possibilities: "first, to free 
himself — even if only temporarily — from what he is and to escape 
from the restrictions of his own social life; second, actively to 
exercise his faculties — generally the emotional and the cognitive" 
(1974, p. xiii). Chopin's story fulfills these requirements for "discov- 
ery." A reading of "The Storm" challenges the restrictions of a 
reader's social codes and heightens emotions into either an aware- 
ness of a woman's stance or to acceptance and change of mind. 
Through the creation of this potential act of discovery, Chopin must 
have accomplished her task of initiating necessary change regarding 
women, or an article such as this could never have been printed 
about a story once too shocking to be published. 



Chopin, Kate. 1986. "The Storm." Pages 399-403 in Literature: The Human 
Experience. Richard Abcarian and Marvin Klotz (Ed.). 4th ed. New York: 
St. Martian's Press. 

Booth, Wayne C. 1971. The Prospect of Rhetoric. Bitzer and Black (Ed.). Chicago: 
Univ. of Chicago Press. 

— . 1983. The Rhetoric of Fiction. 2nd ed. Chicago: Univ.of Chicago Press. 

Chevalier, Jean, Alain Gheerbrant, and Robert Laffont. 1988. Pages 708-709 in 
Dictionnaire Des Symboles: Paris: Jupiter. 

Elfenbein, Anna Shannon. 1989. Women on the Color Line. Charlottesville: Univ. 
Press of Virginia. 

Ewell, Barbara C. 1986. Kate Chopin. New York: The Ungar Publishing Co. 

Iser, Wolfgang. 1974. The Implied Reader. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins 
University Press. 

McKeon, Richard. 1987. "Philosophy of Communication and the Arts." Page 
110 in Rhetoric: Essays on Invention and Discovery. Mark Backman (Ed.). 
Woodbridge: Ox Bow. 

Seyersted, Per. 1969. Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography . Baton Rouge: Louisiana 
State University Press. 

Skaggs, Peggy. 1985. Kate Chopin. Boston: Twayne Publishers. 

Taylor, Helen. 1989. Gender, Race, and Region in the Writings of Grace King, Ruth 
McEnery Stuart, and Kate Chopin. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. 

Toth, Emily. 1990. Kate Chopin. New York: Milliam Morrow and Co., Inc. 




Epistemology, Ethics, and Eliot: 

Feminine Development in 



Sandra S. Honaker 

George Eliot's Middlemarch, set in England just before 1832, 
portrays a world where women are denied access to male methods 
of education. Women of this time are "considered sensible but not 
reasonable," and are "all but denied status as humans" (Richardson 
1988, p. 14). Education, other than that which teaches young ladies 
how to conduct themselves decorously, is thought to be wasted on 
them. Consequently, women, denied traditional education and 
therefore epistemology, have to develop alternate ways of knowing, 
"different perspectives from which [to] view reality and draw 
conclusions about truth, knowledge, and authority" (Belenky et al 
1986, p. 3). Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger and Tarule, in their book 
Women's Ways of Knowing, describe five different epistemological 
patterns of women: silence, received knowledge, subjective knowl- 
edge, procedural knowledge, and constructed knowledge. If we 
apply their epistemological schemata to Rosamond Vincy, Dorothea 
Brooks, and Mary Garth in Middlemarch, we discover that the 
epistemological development of these women is directly related to 
their ethical development. In short, the more these women learn to 
value the self as a basis for knowing, the more they learn to value 
responsibility to self as well as others in making ethical choices. 

Rosamond Vincy advances the least among the young women of 
the novel along the epistemological rubric in Women's Ways of 
Knowing. Rosamond, through the education of Mrs. Lemon, has 
progressed beyond the most elementary epistemological stage, 
silence, whose members are characterized as being "passive, sub- 
dued, and subordinate" (Belenky eta/1986, p. 30). Instead, Rosamond 
relies on received knowledge - the authority of knowledge received 
from Mrs. Lemon, for example. Unlike a silent knower, Rosamond 
knows the value of language - she learns by listening (Eliot 1874, p. 
37) - but she fails to use language as a vehicle of thought or a mode 
of connection to others. Received knowers also tend to see the world 
in polarities, and believe so implicitly in authorities that they never 
realize "that authorities have the capacity for constructing knowl- 
edge. In their view, authorities must receive v truths' from the words 
of even higher authorities" (Belenky et al 1986, p. 39). 


Rosamond, who has had the least amount of education of the 
young women in the novel, is "the flower of Mrs. Lemon's school, 
the chief school in the county, where the teaching included all that 
was demanding in the accomplished female - even to extras, such as 
the getting in and out of a carriage" (Eliot 1874, p. 65). Rosamond 
treats language as she does her musical ability: her execution is 
flawless but the sentiment is copied from her teachers. Language is 
important only in as far as it adorns her appearance as a lady. In her 
first scene she corrects her mother twice for using "unladylike" and 
"vulgar" language, and argues with her brother Fred that "correct 
English" is the only language that is not common slang (Eliot 1874, 
pp. 66-67). To her, language is either right or wrong. Its only value 
is utilitarian - language has no value in and of itself. This view of 
language points to a deficiency in Rosamond's character, for as 
Emmanuel Levinas points out in his essay "Language and Proxim- 
ity," language "is essential to thought, inasmuch as thought is 
thematization and identification" (Levinas 1987, p. 110). Rosamond 
is, therefore, incapable of following another person's train of thought; 
she actually cannot understand Lydgate's financial problems (Eliot 
1874, p. 456). 

Because Rosamond holds this limited view of language, she does 
not see language as an effective tool for communicating with the 
other. In fact, she communicates most effectively when she does not 
rely on language. She wins the heart of Lydgate, for example, by 
crying in response to the gentle tone in his voice. Lydgate, seeing her 
tears, feels that there "could have been no more complete answer 
than silence" (Eliot 1874, p. 208). He responds to her subdued 
response with an engagement. She also expresses her anger silently; 
when her mother tells her that her father is not happy with the 
engagement, Rosamond "listened in silence, and at the end gave a 
certain turn of her graceful neck, of which only long experience 
could teach you that it meant perfect obstinacy" (Eliot 1874, p. 236). 

Rosamond doesn't stoop to argue - she merely does what she feels 
is proper and right (at least for her) according to the dictates of Mrs. 
Lemon's school. When Lydgate admonishes her for going out 


riding when she is pregnant, she doesn't argue with him, but merely 
turns her neck to indicate her obstinacy (Eliot 1874, p. 403). When 
Lydgate finally confesses their lack of funds to her and asks for her 
help, she responds only by putting into the words '"What can I do!' 
as much neutrality as they could hold" (Eliot 1874, p. 410). She is 
afraid to commit herself verbally, and seems not to understand 
Lydgate's words, even when he fully and forcefully explains their 
financial situation to her, trying to "nail down [Rosamond's] vague 
mind to imperative facts" (Eliot 1874, p. 450). She is convinced that 
all of Lydgate's attempts to save money are merely means to 
humiliate and embarrass her; no amount of argument on his part can 
convince her otherwise. 

In light of her inability to communicate to others through 
language and her stunted epistemological development, Rosamond's 
lack of ethical development is not surprising. Levinas remarks that 
ethics and language are inextricably bound to one another. Since his 
ethical system is bound in recognition of the other, and language is 
"the foundation of the other one" (Levinas 1987, p. 116), then every 
act of language is an act of responsibility to another. But Rosamond 
never reaches the ethical level of responsibility, largely because she 
does not articulate her ethical beliefs, an action Charles Taylor 
(1989) insists is crucial to this development. She assumes ethical 
beliefs, the really important ones anyway, have already been taught 
to her by Mrs. Lemon. Rosamond doesn't need to talk about her 
ethics because she believes her ethics are perfectly correct. When she 
lies to Mrs. Plymdale about the availability of houses for rent, 
claiming no knowledge when she full well knows her husband 
intends to offer their house to Ned Plymdale, she shows no remorse. 
She is convinced she is in the right, her husband is in the wrong, and 
her object is "thoroughly justifiable" (Eliot 1874, p. 452). 

In Carol Gilligan's study on feminine ethical development, she 
notes that the initial focus of ethics is "on caring for the self in order 
to ensure survival" (1982, p. 74). Rosamond has not even reached 
the early stage of defining her actions as selfish, which would at least 
indicate she was emerging from this egocentric mode. Instead, she 


sees the actions of others around her as threats, and sees only herself 
as without blame. "In fact there was but one person in Rosamond's 
world whom she did not regard as blameworthy, and that was the 
graceful creature with blond plaits and with little hands crossed 
before her, who had never expressed herself unbecomingly" (Eliot 
1874, p. 460). Since she alone in her world understands the 
importance of not being vulgar and common, she feels justified in 
taking any action necessary to ensure the continuation of her way of 
life, and does not actually weigh the morality of the situation - she 

When Rosamond's actions fail to change the disagreeable facts 
of the world, she pretends she doesn't care. At the New Year's party 
near the end of the novel she marvels at the distance she manages to 
feel from her husband, her cool detachment. This detachment, 
however, is actually "a studied negation by which she satisfied her 
inward opposition to him without compromise of propriety" (Eliot 
1874, p. 443). She has decided not to care for her husband, that not 
caring is the safest route to her survival and to her plans to 
circumvent Lydgate. So she goes through the correct motions of the 
loving wife, sitting on Lydgate's knee when he asks her to, for 
example, but even as she does so "in her secret soul she was utterly 
aloof from him" (Eliot 1 874, p. 448). It is easier for her to stop caring 
about others than to be forced to recognize the rightness and 
individuality of others. 

But this "moral nihilism" (Gilligan 1982, p. 124) is dangerous, 
for when Rosamond feels her survival is threatened, her shaky 
ethical stance collapses. When Will Ladislaw curses her for putting 
him in an awkward position with Dorothea, Rosamond feels she is 
"almost losing the sense of her identity" (Eliot 1874, p. 537). After 
Will leaves, Rosamond collapses in the drawing room, and is unable 
to move or care for herself- she has lost even her instinct for survival 
in the face of criticism. Since her ethical system has been over- 
thrown, Rosamond experiences a sense of aimlessness, of "floating" 
(Gilligan 1982, p. 145). Her world is undermined still more when 


Dorothea comes to see her again, and instead of showing the jealous 

anger toward Rosamond that she expects, Dorothea is kind to her. 

[Rosamond] was under the first great shock that had 

shattered her dream-world in which she had been 

easily confident of herself and critical of others; and 

this strange unexpected manifestation of feeling in a 

woman whom she had approached with a shrinking 

aversion and dread, as one who must necessarily 

have a jealous hatred towards her, made her soul 

totter all the more with a sense that she had been 

walking in an unknown world which had just broken 

in upon her (Eliot 1874, p. 549). 

Although this unanchored feeling often heralds a state of change, it 

is doubtful whether poor old Rosamond will ever change greatly. 

Even Lydgate recognizes that he will have to care for her for the rest 

of his life - she will never extend her responsibility to him (Eliot 

1874, p. 552). And in the Finale, we see that this is true. Rosamond 

never gives up circumventing Lydgate's commands, but as their lives 

become more comfortable, she has less occassion to do so (Eliot 

1874, p. 575). She never grows ethically; her life just becomes easier 

for her to defend. 

For all this, George Eliot does not allow us to dismiss Rosamond, 
or hate her as purely evil. Eliot takes great pains to describe 
Rosamond's ennui with her static life, and when she has Rosamond 
say, "There really is nothing to care for much" (Eliot 1874, p. 415), 
she is reminding us of the awful stasis of the leisured woman's life. 
Later in the novel, after Lydgate's disgrace, Eliot refuses to let us 
condemn Rosamond for thinking that somehow the arrival of Will 
Ladislaw will change things by saying that this method of logic "is 
too common to be fairly regarded as a peculiar folly in Rosamond" 
(Eliot 1874, p. 531). Rosamond does have a moment of redemption, 
too, however slight, when she and Dorothea have their tete-a-tete. 
For the first time in the novel Rosamond seems to have a true 
conversation which acknowledges another and conveys true emo- 
tion. When they quietly part, Eliot comments on their lack of 


ostentatious affection by saying "there had been between them too 
much serious emotion for them to use the signs of it superficially" 
(Eliot 1874, p. 551). Perhaps if Rosamond could have had more 
contact with Dorothea, she would have been more receptive to 
others - but as it is this brief recognition of Dorothea does not make 
a lasting impression on Rosamond. She is too firmly set in her own 

Dorothea Brooke also can be categorized as believing in received 
knowledge, but unlike Rosamond, she briefly advances to a subjec- 
tive thinker. She too, has received a suitably feminine education 
(Eliot 1874, p. 2), but Dorothea feels frustrated by this lack of 
knowledge, and seeks to enlarge her mind. The main attraction of 
marriage with Casaubon is that it will "deliver her from her girlish 
subjection to her own ignorance" (Eliot 1874, p. 17). As Kathleen 
Blake observes in Love and the Woman Question in Victorian Litera- 
ture, Dorothea feels Casaubon will give her "entry into the provinces 
of masculine knowledge - Latin and Greek" (1983, p. 33). However, 
instead of moving out of her reliance on received knowledge, 
Dorothea, in marrying Casaubon, is merely seeking refuge with a 
higher authority - she is still not developing her own way of knowing 
and understanding the world, and in fact is using Casaubon to be a 
barometer of her own hazy opinions (Blake 1983, p. 33). When she 
first considers marriage with him, she sees him as rescuing her from 
the "indefiniteness which hung in her mind, like a thick summer 
haze, over all her desire to make her life greatly effective" (Eliot 
1874, p. 17). She hopes Casaubon will help her see "which opinions 
had the best foundation, and would help me to live according to 
them" (Eliot 1874, p. 26). It is her own disbelief in her ability and 
validity that causes Dorothea to choose such a pedant for a mate. 

As her confidence in Casaubon wanes, Dorothea begins to make 
an epistemological shift from received knowledge to subjective 
knowledge. As with most women who move from received knowl- 
edge to subjective knowledge, Dorothea's shift in epistemological 
perception is brought about by a specific incident: in many cases this 
is motherhood, but in Dorothea's it comes about because of "failed 


male authority" (Btlenky et a/ 1986, p. 57). Dorothea first loses faith 
in Casaubon's authority during the weeks of her honeymoon; more 
importantly, she comes to this conclusion with a gut feeling, not 
scientific observation. 

How was it that in the weeks since her marriage, 
Dorothea had not distinctly observed but felt 
with a stifling depression, that the large vistas 
and wide fresh air which she had dreamed of 
finding in her husband's mind were replaced by 
anterooms and winding passages which seemed 
to lead nowhither? (Eliot 1874, p. 136; my 
She then moves into the realm of Hidden Multiplists, fledgling 
subjective knowers who are beginning to realize that they have 
different ideas than the authority figure, but keep silent out of fear 
of rebuke or isolation (Belenky eta/ 1986, p. 64) - with Dorothea, 
the fear of rebuke comes from both Casaubon and her god. She 
rebels against her husband in her private thought, and in a few 
instances aloud, but she often does not speak aloud because she 
suspects her inability to appreciate her husband might come from 
her own sin. On their honeymoon, when Casaubon shows irritation 
at Dorothea when she dares to comment upon his work, Dorothea 
angrily defends herself, but the encounter leaves her sobbing. Later 
in the novel, when Casaubon brusquely ignores Dorothea, she at 
first lets herself feel indignation - "What have I done . . . that he 
should treat me so?" (Eliot 1 874, p. 294) - but later repents and waits 
up for him. 

Her break with authority is complete only when her husband 
dies. Not only is her authority figure now dead, but he has humili- 
ated her with the implication of the codicil in his will. Dorothea 
finalizes her break with her husband by refusing to continue his life's 
work, although it is clear Casaubon intended her to do so. When she 
finds the Synoptical Tabulation for the use of Mrs Casaubon, she inserts 
the following note into the envelope and seals it for her dead 
husband: "I could not use it. Do you not see that I could not submit 


my soul to yours, by working hopelessly at what I have no belief in?" 
(Eliot 1874, p. 372). Since Dorothea only rebels after Casaubon's 
death, Eliot claims that this act "may perhaps be smiled at as 
superstitious" (Eliot 1874, p. 372), but this is an act of rebellion, 

It is significant, too, that Dorothea communicates, or fails to 
communicate, with her dead husband through a note, for that is the 
form of communication that started their union. Casaubon writes 
her a letter of marriage proposal, and what a lifeless epistle this letter 

For in the first hour of meeting you, I had an 
impression of your eminent and perhaps exclusive 
fitness to supply that need (connected, I may say, 
with such activity of the affections as even the 
preoccupations of a work too special to be abdicated 
could not uninterruptedly dissimulate); and each 
succeeding opportunity for observation has given 
the impression an added depth by convincing me 
more emphatically of that fitness which I had pre- 
conceived, and thus evoking more decisively those 
affections to which I have but not referred (Eliot 
1874, p. 27). 
Dorothea's inability to detect the stilted artificiality of this 
language is remarked upon by George Eliot, when she comments as 
narrator that it did not occur to Dorothea to "examine the letter, to 
look at it critically as a profession of love" (Eliot 1 874, p. 28). In fact, 
her very short and uncreative reply to Casaubon's letter, also a form 
of written, not spoken, speech foreshadows her relationship with 
Casaubon. As Levinas observes, the contact of speech is important, 
regardless of the message (1987, p. 115). Since Dorothea and 
Casaubon avoid spoken speech, and thus contact, their marriage is 
doomed to be a loveless one, and a relatively silent one. 

After Casaubon's death, for a brief while, Dorothea becomes a 
subjective thinker, a more developed epistemological mode, and her 
use of language returns. Subjective thinkers have a "new conception 


of truth as personal, private, and subjectively known or intuited" 
(Belenky eta/ 1986, p. 54). They believe in themselves instead of the 
authorities, even if they cannot cogently explain this belief. They 
also believe in "multiple personal truths" (Belenky eta/ 1986, p. 66). 
Dorothea distrusts authorities, sometimes in the face of direct 
evidence (Belenky eta/ 1986, p. 72), as when Dorothea instinctively 
rises to Lydgate's aid even though Mr. Farebrother believes he is 
guilty. She declares forcefully, "You don't believe that Mr Lydgate 
is guilty of anything base? I will not believe it. Let us find out the 
truth and clear him!" (Eliot 1874, p. 505; my emphasis). This 
declaration is as important as the content of the statement, for 
Dorothea, freed from stifling Casaubon, finds her voice again. And 
the first thing she does with this new found voice is to restore her 
feeling of responsibility, for language creates "fraternity, and thus a 
responsibility for the other, and hence a responsibility for what [she] 
has not committed, for the pain and the fault of others" (Levinas 
1987, p. 123). Although she fails to clear Lydgate as far as the town 
is concerned, Dorothea does relieve Lydgate of his obligation to 
Bulstrode, and supports him with her strong belief in his innocence 
and strength of character. In fact, she supports him through her 
language and actions as the ideal wife would - two things his own 
wife, Rosamond, fails to provide. 

It is this tendency to "devote [herself] to the care and empower- 
ment of others while remaining v selfless'" (Belenky e t al 1 986, p. 46) 
that causes Dorothea to ultimately revert back to her dependence on 
authorities - she merely finds a worthier authority, in her view: Will 
Ladislaw. Instead of developing this growing sense of self, she 
decides to channel it into her "growing capacity to care for others" 
(Eliot 1874, p. 46). 

So Dorothea falls victim to "the conventions of femininitv, 
particularly the moral equation of goodness with self-sacrifice" 
(Gilligan 1982, p. 70). Dorothea is far beyond the selfish ethic of 
simple survival (Rosamond's sticking point), even at the beginning 
of the novel, and sees herself only in relationship to others. In fact, 
in her attempts to build new cottages on Sir James's estate, she 


reveals a more developed moral imperative than Rosamond - 
Dorothea feels "an injunction to care, a responsibility to discern and 
alleviate the 'real and recognizable trouble' of this world" (Gilligan 
1982, p. 100). And Dorothea's recognition of responsibility is not 
just a simple desire to do no harm, but it "signifies response, an 
extension rather than a limitation of action. Thus it connotes an act 
of care rather than the restraint of aggression" (Gilligan 1982, p. 38). 
She feels she must help others - as seen in her response to Lydgate's 
predicament as well as in other places throughout the novel. But this 
willingness to help ultimately traps Dorothea - first with Casaubon 
and then with Will - because it does not extend to herself. She feels 
no responsibility to make herself happy; instead, her happiness can 
only come about as a by-product of securing someone else's happi- 
ness. She has relegated herself to the role of helpmate, which Daniel 
Levinson notes in his 1978 study has been the traditional role of 
women (Gilligan 1982). Women as helpmates are consigned to 
"play a relatively subordinate role in the individual drama of human 
development" (Gilligan 1982, p. 153). 

Her morality is fueled by what Charles Taylor (1989) calls 
"hypergoods," driving moral forces which are seen to dominate 
moral life. There can only be one hypergood per moral framework, 
and although the hypergood mr„y change in a person's lifetime, the 
new hypergood will "challenge and reject" (Taylor 1989, p. 65) the 
old hypergood. Dorothea's first hypergood is her determination to 
build the cottages, then it becomes Casaubon and the pursuit of his 
knowledge, then finally Will and this elevating love he promises, as 
well as his eventual career as a reformer and politician. 

This tendency to see Will as her hypergood is why Dorothea's 
reaction when she thinks Will has betrayed her trust is so violent. 
After she sees Will and Rosamond together and hastily backs out of 
the room, she at first feels a strange rush of energy, as if "she had 
drunk a great draught of scorn that stimulated her beyond the 
susceptibility to other feelings. She had seen something so far below 
her belief, that her emotions rushed back from it and made an 
excited throng without an object" (Eliot 1874, p. 535). She, like 


Rosamond, teeters on the edge of a moral nihilism for a brief 
moment, but Dorothea's moral nihilism is short lived. As soon as 
she is reminded of Will's human existence by the small detail of the 
tortoise-shell box that he gave as a present to Henrietta Noble, she 
can no longer deny her feeling for Will, and rushes home to blurt out 
"Oh, I did love him!" (Eliot 1874, p. 542). Afterwards, she, like 
Rosamond, loses the ability to care for herself for a while, but for very 
different reasons: Dorothea cares too greatly, and is unable to even 
try to pretend that she does not care for Will. "But she lost energy 
at last even for her loud-whispered cries and moans: she subsided 
into helpless sobs, and on the cold floor she sobbed herself to sleep" 
(Eliot 1874, p. 543). She at last decides this action is "selfish 
complaining" (Eliot 1874, p. 544) and rouses herself in order to 
fulfill her responsibility to another: to "attempt to see and save 
Rosamond" (Eliot 1874, p. 545), despite the fact that she believes 
Rosamond to have taken her Will away (Eliot, I believe, intends this 
pun). Dorothea's responsibility to others saves her from Rosamond's 
moral nihilism, but her ethical stance is still rooted in others, not 
herself. And this determines how she will live her life. Dorothea 
recognizes that without further epistemological development, this 
is the best ethical stance she can take. She states to Celia "It is quite 
true that I might be a wiser person . . . and that I might have done 
something better, if I had been better" (Eliot 1874, p. 566). But 
Dorothea feels the best she can do is marry Will Ladislaw; "this is 
what I am going to do" (Eliot 1874, p. 566). 

This ending is often seen as a defeating one for Dorothea, and 
Eliot emphasizes this when she describes Dorothea in the Finale as 
feeling "that there was always something better which she might 
have done, if she had only been better and known better" (Eliot 
1874, p. 576). Dorothea does, however, find fulfillment in her life 
with Will by supporting him in his life as an "ardent public man" 
(Eliot 1874, p. 576). And although Eliot states that many people 
who knew Dorothea felt it "a pity that so substantive and rare a 
creature should have been absorbed into the life of another .... no 
one stated exactly what else that was in her power she ought rather 


to have done" (Eliot 1874, p. 576). In short, althought Dorothea 
shows the potential of becoming another St. Theresa at the begin- 
ning of the novel, this potential is wasted by her inability, or society's 
unwillingness, to allow her to develop an epistemology that would 
allow her go to further. 

It is left to Mary Garth to live at least a small portion of the life 
that Dorothea falls short of. Mary's education is comparable to both 
Rosamond's and Dorothea's, but it is her attitude toward learning 
that sets her apart. Even though she has attended the same school 
as Rosamond, Mary attended as an "articled pupil" (Eliot 1874, p. 
74) - one on scholarship. And instead of waiting for someone to 
come along and teach her, as Dorothea does, Mary reads to educate 
herself- despite resistance from Mr. Featherstone, who "can't abide 
to see her reading to herself (Eliot 1874, p. 76). 

Mary also does not rely blindly on what she reads, or kowtow to 
authorities. She is known for her observant remarks and biting wit, 
as when she teases Fred about his college education, and when she 
jokes with him about his failure to take the divinity exam: "Divide 
your cleverness by ten, and the quotient - dear me! - is able to take 
a degree" (Eliot 1874, p. 95). She is able to believe herself capable 
of knowing what is right and wrong, and shows this by demonstrat- 
ing remarkable integrity on the night Mr. Featherstone dies. Her 
refusal to defer to his obvious authority (which sets her apart from 
the other characters in the novel) and burn the will, even though 
Fred would personally profit from it, shows an epistemological 
process devoid of reliance on authority. Mary simply knows she is 
doing the right thing. 

Mary's training as a teacher, and her success at finding a position 
as such (Eliot 1874, p. 276), suggests that she has had the academic 
discipline associated with procedural knowledge, the next episte- 
mological stage after subjective knowledge. The procedural knower 
learns that although many opinions are valid, there is a method of 
abstracting truth from process; in other words, she learns that "truth 
can be shared" (Belenky et al 1986, p. 92) without being dictated. 
Procedural knowledge comes closest to the traditional ways of 


thinking, especially the subdivision labeled separate knowers, who, 
usually through an academic regimen, have mastered objective, 
analytic methods of acquiring knowledge. The separate knower 
learns to think academically, and then "uses this new mode of 
thinking to construct arguments powerful enough to meet the 
standards of impersonal authority" (Belenky et al 1986, p. 101). 
Connected knowers, on the other hand, understand as opposed to 
know. "Understanding involves intimacy and equality between self 
and object, while knowledge . . . implies separation from the object 
and mastery over it" (Belenky et al 1986, p. 101). 

Mary consciously rejects the separated form of procedural knowl- 
edge for a connected form of knowledge when she expresses that her 
"mind is too fond of wandering on its own way" (Eliot 1874, p. 93). 
She does not prefer separated procedural knowing, but can perform 
it, as her teaching ability suggests. She is adept, however, at 
connected knowing, at analysis that is not devoid of relationship 
(Belenky et al 1986, p. 101). Her clever account of Tom, who 
knocked down the ants' house and "thought they didn't mind 
because he couldn't hear them cry" is a subtle jibe at Fred, who can 
not see the damage that his debt has caused the Garth family (Eliot 
1874, p. 444). Mary also demonstrates this ability when her mother 
chastises her for her aversion to teaching, and Mary responds 
intelligently with "I suppose we never quite understand why another 
dislikes what we like, mother" (Eliot 1874, p. 276). Although Mary 
speaks curtly here, she expresses her opinion to her mother without 
alienating her or even angering her. 

It may even be stated that Mary reaches the highest level of 
epistemological development, Belenky's constructed knowledge, 
which is typified by creative acts (1986). Although Mary Garth is 
hardly a picture of liberated womanhood, she is a remarkable 
product of her time, and it is noteworthy that it is she, not Dorothea, 
who eventually leaves her mark on the world. Mary writes and 
publishes a book for children called Stories of Great Men, taken from 
Plutarch. Yes, it is a book for children about men, but this creative 
act is above what any of the other women in the novel manages to 


enact. Eliot ironically (and perhaps autobiographically) comments 
that Middlemarch refuses to believe that a mere women, who has 
not been to the university, has written on such a classical subject; this 
comment further draws attention to Mary's achievement. 

According to Belenky, constructivist women, when confronted 
with a moral dilemma, want to know more about the situation 
before making judgements. They ask questions which "indicate a 
sensitivity to situation and context" (Belenky eta/ 1986, p. 149). As 
with Mary Garth, they recognize that "integrity and care must be 
included in a morality that can encompass the dilemmas of love and 
work that arise in adult life" (Gilligan 1982, p. 165). Mary does not 
hold blindly to a preconceived set of moral codes - she has a sense 
of integrity, but she never forgets the human side of morality. So, 
when Fred confesses his inability to pay his debt to her family, she 
shows how reprehensible a moral act this is to her without totally 
alienating Fred. But she refuses to marry Fred until he proves 
himself capable of caring for others and shows responsibility to 
himself and others. In short, until he moves toward her morality. 

Mary can insist Fred come to her position because her moral 
focus has moved beyond Dorothea's, from responsibility to others 
to responsibility to self. Even though Mary still feels responsibility 
to others, she insists in having a moral obligation to herself- she will 
not yoke herself to Fred if he is unable to meet her moral standard. 
"Thus she strives to encompass the needs of both self and others, to 
be responsible to others and thus to be v good' but also to be 
responsible to herself and thus to be * honest' and * real'" (Gilligan 
1982, p. 85). But Mary is never motivated by a desire to be a perfect 
daughter or be liked by others - she does what she must. She never 
sacrifices herself for a hypergood, as does Dorothea, but under- 
stands that the "good life must be . . one which somehow combines 
to the greatest possible degree all the goods we seek" (Gilligan 1982, 
p. 66). Mary values more than one thing at a time - family, her sense 
of self, love, honor. Just as Claire, a volunteer at an abortion clinic 
and a focus of Gilligan's study, recognizes that abortion, even 
though it is killing, is necessary and that she is "willing to go ahead 


with it, and it's hard" (Gilligan 1982, p. 58), Mary goes ahead with 
her decisions, even though they are hard. Her moral integrity is 
unmatched in the novel. Farebrother's attraction to Mary under- 
scores this integrity, as well as Mary's brother Albert's summation 
of her character: "she's an old brick" (Eliot 1874, p. 276). 

Mary then, not only serves as the highest feminine moral attain- 
ment in the novel, but as a good model of the mature women's ethic, 
which is defined by the ethic of responsibility and "can become a 
self-chosen anchor of personal integrity and strength" (Gilligan 
1982, p. 171). It is no accident that this moral integrity occurs in the 
one young woman in the novel who truly values education and 
believes herself capable of learning and knowing, and is known for 
her capability with language, which belongs, according to Levinas, 
"to the very work of truth" (1987, p. 114). Since Mary can articulate 
her moral system, she has her own moral source, and as Taylor 
points out, "Moral sources empower" (1989, p. 96). It is Mary who 
does the most with her life, attains her goals, and reaches her greatest 
happiness - she is truly empowered. 

Although Dorothea at first may shine more brightly, Mary Garth 
serves as the moral beacon for the novel. Because Mary trusts herself 
as a source of both knowledge of the world and of morality, she is 
the only one with a clear vision of how she wants to live her life. Marv 
relies on "truth of feeling (Eliot 1843, p. 581), which Eliot claims in 
a letter to a friend is the only way to develop personal moral systems 
- the only systems Eliot feels are true ones. Because Dorothea does 
not trust her feelings, and Rosamond cannot articulate hers, both of 
these women fail to develop a truly sustaining epistemology or 
ethical system. 



Belenky, Mary Field, Blythe McVicker Clinchy, Nancy Rule Goldberger, and Jill 
MattuckTarule. 1986. Women's Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, 
Voice, and Mind. New York: Basic Books. 

Blake, Kathleen. 1983. Love and the Woman Question in Victorian Literature: the 
Art of Self-Postponement. Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble. 

Eliot, George. 1843. "Letter to Sara Sophia Hennell." (9 October 1843). 
Middlemarch. Pages 581-582 in A Norton Critical Edition. 1977. Bert G. 
Hornback (Editor). New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 

. 1874. Middlemarch. Pages 1-578 in A Norton Critical Edition. 1977. Bert 

G. Hornback (Editor). New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 

Gilligan, Carol. 1982. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's 
Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 

Levinas, Emmanuel. 1987. "Language and Proximity." Pages 109-126 in Collected 
Philosophical Papers. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Dordrecht, Netherlands: 
Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. 

Richardson, Alan. 1988. "Romanticism and The Colonization of the Feminine." 
Pages 13-25 in Romanticism and Feminism. Anne K. Mellor (Editor). 
Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. 

Taylor, Charles. 1989. Sources of the Self the Making of the Modern Identity. 
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 




Elizabeth Fox-Genovese's Feminism 
Without Illusions: One Year Later 

Barbara A. Baker 

Pop-feminism is enjoying a great deal of recent press. Everyone 
from Oprah Winfrey to Phil Donahue is hosting Susan Faludi and 
Gloria Steinem in an effort to parse the meaning of the word, 
feminism, which has suffered connotations ranging from militant to 
individualist. While Elizabeth Fox-Genovese's Feminism Without 
Illusions has probably not stirred the beehive of popular culture, it 
has been the object of academic war. It is precisely the laying bare 
of contradictory notions which incite opposition that makes Femi- 
nism Without Illusions an important book for anyone committed to 
arguing the feminist case. An inclusive look at feminism through 
philosophic, historic, and even literary lenses, Feminism Without 
Illusions thrives in the contraries of Fox-Genovese's argument. 

Primarily, her argument is a scathing critique of both individu- 
alism and its 'daughter,' feminism. Women would be further ahead, 
according to Fox-Genovese, to legitimize their needs in terms of a 
commonality rather than individual rights. She speaks of individu- 
alism in opposition to a collectivity as if they were absolute, 
separable categories. This distinction somehow fails to recognize a 
fundamental ethical situation: an individual in relation to or con- 
frontation with the society in which she exists. Even though Fox- 
Genovese does not propose a means to achieve a commonality, by 
pitting individualism against a hypothetical collectivity, she sets the 
stage for an argument which has the potential to produce the grev 
area where individual self-consciousness will act responsiblv in the 
larger whole. Such individual responsibility is vital to the collectivity 
Fox-Genovese imagines but does not offer a blue-print for achiev- 
ing. In an effort to destroy one illusion, she creates another. 

While dispelling the myth that women can unite in an essentialist 
sisterhood in order to decide collectively what they, as women, need, 
FoxGenovese illuminates the problem of an even larger collectivity 
articulating the needs of women. If, among themselves, women 
have failed to transcend racial, ethnic, and social class lines in order 
to create a solidarity committed to achieving equity for all, how can 
we expect men and women's combined interests to converge in a 
recognition of women's needs? Fox-Genovese's hope for the future 


rests on that hypothetical anti-individualist community that con- 
siders socially derived rights prior to individual rights, yet recognizes 
women's needs as no other collectivity ever has. 

Fox-Genovese does offer some concrete suggestions (which 
seem grounded primarily in her own individual beliefs). In answer 
to questions of pornography and abortion, we need only to decide 
collectively what is morally acceptable and what is not, a view which 
is frighteningly reminiscent of a moral majority. On pornography, 
she would "ban the more extreme forms without a second thought, 
and with precious few worries about the public expressions of 
healthy sexuality that might be banned along with them" (88). On 
abortion, she supports "the necessity of granting women the power 
to choose to have an abortion under socially determined conditions" 
(10). Both views assume an individual selfconsciousness which is 
potentially radically out of step with a collective social conscious- 
ness. Since she never asserts the framework in which this composite 
consciousness would be grounded, it is impossible to say if her anti- 
free speech, pro-choice stance would be completely undermined in 
her ideal community. 

Concerning the canon, Fox-Genovese would introduce gender 
as an objective perspective. She believes that the canon "can take 
account of the feminist challenge by introducing the essential 
woman as counterpart to the essential man" (192). Our primary 
objective should be to "revise our view of the canon as a common 
legacy" (192). Again, it seems that Fox-Genovese is dealing in the 
hypothetical. Many canonized authors, particularly modernists like 
Eliot and Joyce, did not write works that lend themselves to gender- 
informed scrutiny. They set out with elitist attitudes designed 
specifically to exclude the feminine agenda. If canonized authors 
did not view "essential woman as counterpart to essential man," 
perhaps reading them as such would alienate the common history 
we seek to preserve (192). Nonetheless, her proposed gender 
perspective is entertaining and hopeful. 

Though Fox-Genovese never works out many of the problems 
she presents, she intelligently and conscientiously brings diverse 


points of view to the issues with which she struggles. She provides 
the information which will allow her reader to continue to grapple 
with the dilemma of individuals in modern societies. Because the 
book is packed with insights from across the disciplines, and because 
Fox-Genovese rarely shrinks from exposing the many facets of her 
complicated arguments, the book will remain a valuable commen- 
tary on individualism and feminism into the next wave and the next 



Suzanne Clark's Sentimental 

Modernism: Women Writers and 

the Revolution of the Word 

Lisa Plummer Crafton 

Beginning with an acknowledgement that the sentimental is 
what Roland Barthes calls an "unwarranted discourse," Suzanne 
Clark contributes to a dialogue about the appropriation of the 
masculine and feminine in modern poetry. Clark's purpose is to 
argue for the restoration of the feminine discourse of the sentimen- 
tal within modernism; this first requires her to trace the ways in 
which modernism as a movement treated the sentimental as both a 
past to be outgrown and a tendency to be despised, creating an 
intellectual, avant-garde community defined by its adversarial rela- 
tionship to domestic culture. And because women have a privileged 
(or fatal) relationship with the sentimental, Clark sees this condem- 
nation as a gendered one. 

Positioning herself between both Ann Douglas' case against the 
sentimental in The Feminization of Discourse (a book in which 
Douglas sees femininity as a debilitating gendering imposed by 
culture) and Jane Tompkins' argument, in Sensational Designs, for 
an aesthetic/political acknowledgement of the sentimental, Clark 
mediates an understanding of the sentimental, specifically in mod- 
ern women writers whose work appropriates a sentimental past and 
which "reveals a contradiction within modernism, challenging our 
understanding of it, and indeed of our own work" (5). 

Underlying much of the book, then, is Clark's exposure of how 
modernism is stabilized by a system of gendered binaries (male/ 
female, serious/sentimental, critical/popular) and how modern writ- 
ers suffer not only from a pattern of anxiety created by past male 
authority (as Harold Bloom argues) but also by "an estrangement 
from a maternal enclosure" such that maturity, for many modern 
critics, is judged by one's separation from the sentimental (m)Other. 
Clark cites John Crowe Ransom's well-known disparagement of 
Edna St. Vincent Millay as a "sentimental" writer: "Millay is rarely 
and barely very intellectual, and I think everyone knows it" (9). 
Ransom implies that while women have to contend with the 
tradition of sensibility, male poets/critics can grow up and away 
from the sentimental; however, as Clark points out, this disguising 
of the sentimental within the masculine tradition leads to the 


"successful cross-dressing of the male poet" and has a decidedly 
dishonest air about it. 

It is not, however, only the male poetic and critical tradition that 
Clark wants to educate; she analyzes the ways in which women 
writers and feminists reject a "feminine" tradition. She openly asks, 
"Is it possible to talk about women writers and the sentimental 
without eliciting the modernist response? It is a knee-jerk reaction 
without parallel in literary criticism" (11). Just as intellectuals 
separate themselves from the ordinary, feminists separate them- 
selves from the feminine, the community of women, and Clark's aim 
is to reunite these traditions. 

Tracing the use of the sentimental in terms of the politics of 
literary criticism, Clark explores the roles of at least three kinds of 
women writers: those who worked for the political causes of 
modernism and yet were rejected on aesthetic terms (Emma 
Goldman's anarchist involvement with women's issues and Edna 
St. Vincent Millay's politics of free love are complicated by their 
brand of sentimentalism); those who identified with modernism 
and the avant-garde, defined by a struggle with the sentimental 
(Louise Bogan's alternating criticism/admiration for sentimental 
intensity and Kay Boyle's refusal to identify herself as a woman 
writer and rejection of feminist criticism); and, finally, those post- 
modern women writers whose style calls both genre and gender into 
question (Annie Dillard's objective, realistic narrative style which at 
the same time posits an unspoken "she" and Alice Walker's 
reconnection with the community of women and advocacy of a 
"womanist" prose). 

After an introduction and an initial chapter briefly tracing the 
sentimental tradition in literature (from 18th century British to the 
Puritan tradition in America through 20th century feminist theo- 
ries), Clark then devotes a chapter to each of the six women writers 
noted above. While Clark's subject seems at times simply too large 
(chapter one's necessarily inadequate survey) or is argued from a 
sometimes fallacious definition of the male modernist tradition, her 
appeal that literature be analyzed in its rhetorical sense asks readers 


to re-examine the relationship between an intellectual/feminine 
sensibility and to recall the variety and value of a tradition that 
modernism reduced to a single, gendered, and therefore less serious 
aesthetic. Overall, offering much more than just a discussion of 
women writers within modernism, Clark's work contributes to 
ongoing debates about feminist criticism, canon formation, and the 
essentially rhetorical nature of discourse. 



About the Authors 

Richard Alapack received his Ph.D. from Duquesne University. 
Now an Assistant Professor of Psychology at West Georgia Col- 
lege, he has recently returned from Alaska where he conducted 
clinical work and research concerning the effects of the Exxon 
Valdese oil hemorrhage. He is the author of many articles on the 
depth phenomenology of human development, especially adoles- 
cence, some of which have been collected in the volume Milestones 
in Adolescent Relationships. He has lectured widely in the United 
States, Canada and Europe. During the Fall of 1990 he was an 
Overseas Research Fellow in South Africa. 

Barbara A. Baker earned a degree in English from the University 
of Pittsburgh in 1991. She is currently teaching composition and 
studying at Auburn University, concentrating on gender studies and 
Twentieth Century Literature. She has published her poetry in 
Frameworks Literary Magazine and is currently working with Joyce's 

Ellen Barker attended Ball State University and earned a degree 
in English education. With this degree, she taught two years of high 
school English and reading. From there she earned her Master of 
Arts degree at the University of Missouri, Columbia, and then 
returned to Ball State University where she began her career as gypsy 
English instructor. She has taught English and writing at the 
University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Eastern Oregon State College, 
where she gained experience teaching in a summer exchange pro- 
gram with the Community College of Micronesia on the island of 
Truk and on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in central 
Oregon; West Georgia College, and now Dekalb College. Cur- 
rently she is finishing her Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition and 
modern literature at Georgia State University. 

Lisa Plummer Crafton received her Ph.D. in English Literature 
(British Romanticism) from the University of Tennessee. Now as 
Assistant Professor of English at West Georgia College, she is 
teaching courses in British Romanticism and Women's Literature. 


Her research has focused upon Blake, Wordsworth, the lyric as 
genre, and Millay, and she is currently editing a book on the French 
Revolution debate of the 1790s. 

Sue Hammons-Bryner is an Associate Professor of Social Sci- 
ence at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. She has degrees 
from The University of Georgia (1970), West Georgia College 
(1974), and Florida State University (1991). Her current research 
interests include the barriers faced by nontraditional students. 

Sandra S. Honaker received a Master of Arts in English Litera- 
ture with an emphasis in Creative Writing in 1986 at the University 
of South Carolina. After a few years teaching in small colleges and 
a single year teaching English in a private high school (during which 
time she won the Tennessee Outstanding Teacher of the Year 
Award for 1988), she retired from academia in 1989 to write a novel. 
Older and wiser after this experience, and encouraged by the shift 
toward interdisciplinary studies, she came back to the academic fold 
in 1991. She now teaches a sophomore level course at Auburn 
University entitled Great Books, which is an interdisciplinary 
course stressing the teaching of philosophical, religious, historical 
and scientific works as well as literature. 

Meg Wilkes Karraker is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at 
the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her research 
explores the impact of social structure on quality of life, and she has 
published research and review articles in a variety of journals. 

Kareen Malone teaches social psychology, gender studies, and 
Lacanian psychoanalysis in the Psychology Department at West 
Georgia College. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology and Litera- 
ture from the University of Dallas and has published and presented 
in the areas of humanistic psychology, phenomenology, feminism, 
and psychoanalysis. She is currently working on a manuscript that 
examines the significance of psychoanalytic structures within con- 
temporary sexual practices and fantasies. 


ISBN 1-883199-01-8